On a more fundamental level, America stands to learn from the language recently used by the U.S. Supreme Court in ruling on Arizona’s immigration law; in particular its use of nonjudgmental language regarding immigrants, a prominent Hispanic business executive says.
“When you label someone an ‘illegal alien’ or ‘illegal immigrant’ or just plain ‘illegal,’ you are effectively saying the individual, as opposed to the actions the person has taken, is unlawful,” wrote Charles Garcia, CEO of Garcia Trujillo, in a column for CNN.
Garcia has served the administration of four presidents — both Democratic and Republican — his column said, in concluding that the Supreme Court was wise to avoid using terms that are often viewed as pejorative.
In explaining why such terms can be offensive, Garcia wrote, “In this country, there is still a presumption of innocence that requires a jury to convict someone of a crime. If you don’t pay your taxes, are you an illegal? What if you get a speeding ticket? A murder conviction? No. You’re still not an illegal. Even alleged terrorists and child molesters aren’t labeled illegals.”
In tracing the etymology of the term, Garcia argues that from its onset, the term has been used in a derogatory manner.
“The term ‘illegal immigrant’ was first used in 1939 as a slur by the British toward Jews who were fleeing the Nazis and entering Palestine without authorization,” Garcia wrote for CNN. “Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel aptly said that ‘no human being is illegal.’”
He went on to blame, in large measure, the Associated Press, which publishes a stylebook that is generally considered the bible of language usage for the media across the country. While AP recommends using the term “illegal immigrant” because of its neutral connotation, Garcia argues there is nothing neutral about the term.