Honest Language and Immigration Reform: Truth in Advertising

Another guest post from Robert Gittelson: pilgrim-cartoon

Much has been made recently of the statements recently made by Senator Chuck Schumer at the Migration Policy Institute, in which he called for a more honest dialogue in our national debate on immigration reform.  The Washington Examiner made the following observations about Senator Schumer’s speech:

"Illegal immigration is wrong -- plain and simple," he continued. "When we use phrases like 'undocumented workers,' we convey a message to the American people that their government is not serious about combating illegal immigration, which the American people overwhelmingly oppose." Schumer can read the polls as well as anybody. He knows he can't spout a bunch of pro-amnesty euphemisms and satisfy the voters' desire for strict controls on illegal immigration. That means he has to at least adopt the language of toughness. So out goes that word cherished among many Democrats: "undocumented."

This strategic gesture on the part of Sen. Schumer was met with cautious optimism by the Restrictionists, as clearly it was intended to. Lou Dobbs had this to say about the speech on his June 29th Show:

DOBBS:  Senator Schumer flatly rejecting euphemisms that have, well, been used by many to obfuscate the issue rather than illuminate it.  Well, the senator is obviously trying to assert, with the good faith, honest language, and in that regard, it is something to watch as to whether or not his lead is followed. Using the word, illegal, the expression or term, illegal alien, rather than undocumented worker or migrant, as some news organizations, as well as partisans and advocates in this national debate have done.

While the use of the term "undocumented" is not an obfuscation of truth - these people are, in fact, undocumented and often times this description of their immigration status is the most accurate - in the spirit of candor and the rejection of euphemisms, if the word “undocumented” is (in the minds of some people) incorrect, then perhaps we should explore the use of the term “amnesty” as a less than straightforward (or wholly dishonest) way of describing “earned legalization.”

There are vague similarities between amnesty and earned legalization, but since amnesty would mean an instant and full pardon, and earned legalization would require about a decade of hard work and severe penalties, they are certainly not synonymous. Furthermore, I think that we can all agree that the phrase “open-borders crowd,” has been used by the Restrictionists, including our friend Lou Dobbs himself, as a pejorative and inaccurate euphemism for Comprehensive Immigration Reform supporters.

Therefore, I find it sadly ironic that the Washington Examiner manages to deride the use of the word “undocumented” by employing the phrase “spout a bunch of pro-amnesty euphemisms,” (which amounts to the pot calling the kettle black).

Specifically, let us start by discussing the euphemism “open borders crowd.” This term has consistently been used by opponents of a comprehensive approach to our immigration crisis, in a conscious effort to paint proponents of a comprehensive plan as being weak, or even against, enforcement. I, for one, have been a die-hard advocate for CIR for years. However, anyone that actually reads what I write, or listens to what I say, will quickly come to understand that by advocating for a comprehensive plan, CIR proponents are actually advocating for enforcement - its just that we are advocating for enforcement of new laws that replace the outdated and broken system currently in place.

Therefore, I would humbly suggest that perhaps, in the interests of honesty and candor, the Restrictionists should cease and desist on the use of the euphemism “open borders crowd.” If they have to use a euphemism that accurately describes our position on enforcement “post-CIR” than I have in the past suggested that a more descriptive euphemism would be “tighter-borders crowd,” but surprisingly, this hasn’t exactly caught on yet.

Similarly, the anti-CIR lobby has consistently employed the word “Amnesty,” primarily because it sounds like automatic citizenship under CIR. Of course, they know that they are using deceptive practices, but on the other hand, since nobody has really called them on the use of this word, they continue to use “amnesty” instead of the proper and more accurate phrase, “earned legalization,” which would:

1)      Require an FBI fingerprint background check.

2)      Filing all past due tax returns, if any.

3)      Learning to speak, read, and write in English.

4)      Paying a significant fine.

5)      Paying to cover the costs of processing their applications.

6)      Continue to pay their taxes and stay right with the law at all times for at least a decade or so, until such time as all legally processed applications that were filed before the new CIR can be duly processed ahead of their application, (the “end of the line”).

I liken this to the following analogy: Let’s say that two people are sitting in traffic court, waiting to be tried for their speeding tickets. They both want to keep their driving records clean, to keep their insurance from going up. The first person lucks out. The Policeman that gave him his ticket doesn’t show up in court, and the Judge has no choice but to drop the charges, enabling the person to get off scot-free. The other person isn’t so lucky, because the Policeman that gave him his ticket does show up, and the Judge finds him guilty, and orders a fine of $500. In order to keep the ticket off his record, the judge orders him to pay another $150 for Traffic School, and orders him to complete the 16 hour program in order to keep the ticket off his permanent driving record.

Now, both people ended up with clean driving records. The Restrictionists would have you believe that at the end of the day, it is exactly the same thing. However, I believe that the American Public is smart enough to recognize the distinctions between getting off scot-free, (“Amnesty”), and paying significant fines, in addition to completing addition requirements, (earned legalization).

Again, honesty is a two way street. This issue is difficult enough to navigate without hyperbole, misdirection, or, as Lou Dobbs himself says, “obfuscation.” I, for one, will rise to the challenge and I will call out those that refuse to use honest dialogue, and stick to the euphemisms of deception.