May 1, 2019

NEWSPEAK: Blurring the line between legal and illegal immigration.

Lately, the mother of all terminology battles has been fought over descriptions of the millions of persons who are in the United States illegally. Should they be described as “illegal immigrants”? “Undocumented workers”? “Unauthorized immigrants”? Some say the appropriate term is “illegal aliens”, arguing that we tilt the discussion when we identify those who have evaded the law as “immigrants” because an immigrant, under the law, is someone who has been admitted for residence in the United States.

Both sides understand that the terms of the debate are a matter of linguistic framing. By influencing public attitudes, they can shape policy outcomes.

What most concerns me is the effort to blur the line between legal and illegal immigration. It has gained momentum as many Democrats and other liberals have categorically rejected any policy that President Trump has adopted regarding the enforcement of immigration laws. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf gave forceful expression to this sentiment when she said, “We in Oakland have a community that welcomes and honors all people, no matter where they came from — no matter how they got here.”

The latest item involving language and framing that has caught my eye appears in an article about California senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris. Published in the May issue of The Atlantic, it is titled “Kamala Harris Takes Her Shot”.

What jumped out at me was writer Elizabeth Weil’s summary of Harris’s platform. She wrote that the platform included “a path to citizenship for immigrants”. Weil did not see fit to mention that she was referring to a proposal to benefit those who have violated immigration law. By not reporting that salient fact, Weil did the work of the immigration activists who have long sought to blur the line between legal and illegal immigration.

Yet another Democratic operative with a byline.

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