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ILLEGALS: Why aren’t companies, industries, corporations, and individuals who hire undocumented work

September 30, 2008

Summary: Undocumented worker/resident/immigrant; unauthorized immigrants (U.S. Census Bureau term). The issue here is similar to the prostitute who is vilified by name, but whose partner is not. Why aren't companies, industries, corporations, and individuals who hire undocumented workers called illegals? Most undocumented immigrants do not come to the U.S. by crossing a border illegally; most enter legally—with student, tourist, or business visas—and remain after their visas expire. Pramila Jayapal, founder of Hate Free Zone, took on a TV ad—run by Washington state U.S. Senate candidate Mike McGavick in his, eventually, losing campaign in 2006 to unseat Senator Maria Cantwell—in which the candidate said his opponent “voted to allow social security benefits to illegals.” Her group, joined by other nonpartisan immigrant rights organizations, held a press conference to denounce the use of “illegals” as a noun and other racially charged language. McGavick responded to the protest by stating the term was a “perfectly acceptable shorthand word for people who are in our country illegally.” On the contrary, argues Jayapal, such usage by McGavick and many others objectifies and dehumanizes an entire group of people. People may commit illegal acts but “no human being is ‘illegal.’” These are people, she says, “who are the victim of an immigration system that is truly broken, that simply has not been reformed in decades to accurately reflect the need for immigrant workers that is clearly present in our country.” Such usage prevents the nation from having a real discussion about our needs.

For more information on the forthcoming Unspinning the Spin: The Women’s Media Center Guide to Accurate, Bias-Free Language, click here.