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Ask the White Guy: ‘Illegal’ Is a Dehumanizing Term

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

A recent Politico article states: “Long pilloried for being soft on illegal immigration, top Democratic officials have concluded there’s only one way they can hope to pass a comprehensive immigration bill: Talk more like Republicans. They’re seizing on the work of top Democratic Party operatives who, after a legislative defeat in 2007, launched a multiyear polling project to craft an enforcement-first, law-and-order, limited-compassion pitch that now defines the party’s approach to the issue.

“The 12 million people who unlawfully reside the country? Call them ‘illegal immigrants,’ not ‘undocumented workers,’ the pollsters say. Strip out the empathy, too. Democrats used to offer immigrants ‘an earned path to citizenship’ so hardworking people trying to support their families could ‘come out of the shadows.’ To voters, that sounded like a gift, the operatives concluded. Now, Democrats emphasize that it’s ‘unacceptable’ to allow 12 million people to live in America illegally and that the government must ‘require’ them to register and ‘get right with the law.’ That means three things: ‘Obey our laws, learn our language and pay our taxes’—or face deportation.” 

Response: What foolishness. Pandering to haters is a slippery slope that always leads to self-immolation.

I have no problem giving someone the “gift” of earning their way to citizenship, especially when this country screwed up the process to become a citizen in the first place and didn’t enforce the law because it was convenient to have the workers here.

Here’s something to think about: We’re in the middle of producing an article on the prison-industrial complex. There are three for-profit prison companies that are publicly traded. Stocks go up when revenue increases, but the growth spurt in creating new prisoners has flattened out now that we imprison eight times the rest of the world’s average*. So what happens? OH! Here’s an idea: Let’s round up the “illegals” and stuff them in detention centers (that the for-profit prison companies are busy building and staffing). It’s a move that will plump up stock prices—and employ thousands of people who will vote in their selfish best interests. Why didn’t it happen until now? It’s not palatable to round up the “illegals” when the economy is booming and business owners NEED those workers, but a downturn in the economy means you can create new laws to prey on the people you’re now dehumanizing. Re-read your history of why the Weimar Republic ended—and who ended it.

Which leads me to another interesting fact: Guess what other industry went up in this downturn? SWAT-team attacks.

Interesting to think that the Second Amendment was put in place mainly to give the citizens parity with soldiers. (The British were an occupying force. The Second Amendment—and THIRD Amendment; have you read that one lately?—were put in place to prevent future oppressive occupying forces.) We don’t have parity anymore. Every podunk police force has a “SWAT team” with MP5 submachine guns, black uniforms—and hoods to hide identities. See what happens if you wear an outfit like that to Walmart.

So sure, let them round up them “illegals”—yee-ha! We can concentrate them in facilities that the misery merchants will build for us. Hey, after all, Daddy Prisonbucks needs a new vacation home and that will employ people too! But who will they come after once that growth industry runs out? After all, even with 10 million to 16 million “illegals,” it won’t take long to tap that vein. The water’s coming to a boil and we’re in the pot asking “I wonder what they’re cooking—it smells so good.”

For what it’s worth, I have no problem with “illegal immigrants,” but I do have a problem calling someone an “illegal.” The minute you dehumanize a group (which calling a person an “illegal” does), you take a major step in treating people inhumanly. For example, you can whip soldiers up to “kill the g–ks” and “torch the ‘ville” and joke about it, but it gets personal sometimes. Diversity expert and civil-rights activist Dr. Betances once told me about seeing American Army posters designed to whip up hate to kill Cubans after Castro’s revolution (when we were noodling about invading Cuba). The posters dehumanized Cuban faces (so the soldiers would have a lower threshold to killing them). It was painfully clear to Dr. Betances that he looked a lot like the guys pictured in the posters!

The point is: When has feeding hate not come back to bite the haters in the butt—often fatally? I see these people with their protest signs saying things like “What part of ‘illegal’ don’t you understand?” and I wonder at how readily foolish people can be manipulated to bring about their own destruction.

*Oh, and by the way, once they’re done making money from these felons, they drop them off on the taxpayer’s lap to take care of now that we’ve made them unemployable. It’s the same thinking that the Goldman Sachs people have—yep, we support the “free market” until it comes time to clean up the mess. Then the perpetrators get scarce and let the taxpayer deal with it.

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24 Comments

  • Anonymous

    I have a somewhat different take on this. I know several families who are undocumented–and they are not all from Mexico. These are honest hard-working people who work long hours and live in substandard conditions, sending money home to support their families. They are much more like my dirt-poor Irish ancestors who came to this country to do jobs no one else wanted to do than we modern Americans are. What’s happening now is that those who looked the other way when they were profitable, are now talking law enforcement.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent comment by the guest who coined the term “economic refugee”. I think it will catch on.

  • Anonymous

    Luke,

    Great article as always.

    You say this: “Regarding Spanish – I don’t think it’s a bad thing for taxpayers to fund English as a Second Language schools. The benefits of increased productivity and a more cohesive society would more than offset the expense.”

    It is an excellent idea for American high school students to seriously buckle down and learn Spanish well. I speak Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese fluently and let me tell you: I have access to an abundance of business partners in the Latino community here and around the world.

    A prediction for you all: Spanish will become the “business vernacular” within the United States.

    The Roman empire manifested a similar linguistic dynamic. I cannot recall exactly which one, but, one of the largest immigrant groups to the Roman empire brought with it a language that took root within the Empire and among her citizens. This language was learned and spoken by many Romans who in turn created commerce and trade with that immigrant group.

    Now, fast forward thousands of years, and look at America: here we are. By 2050, the population of Spanish speakers in America will be around 40%, according to US Census data.

    My advice to monolingual America is to learn Spanish or begin to feel very, very left out of conversations and possibly business transactions.

    I know that I am not ashamed of being multilingual, nor do I think I am better than anyone else. I was indeed a bit miffed when in the recent movie Robin Hood, with Russel Crow, the multilingual character was portrayed as a spying, thieving, conniving jerk.

    The take-away here is multifaceted: do not be afraid of people from other lands or cultures; learning another language does not make you a traitor; not knowing another language does not make you stupid or less-than; learning a language creates an appreciation for diversity that diversity training cannot, meaning that when you take on another culture’s language, you take on a tiny bit of the culture as well.

    Remember: languages are LESS like codes for one another and more like distinct personalities and ways of being.

    -A Teacher

  • Anonymous

    You’re a idiot. Everything’s a conspiracy to you, and words mean what you want them to mean, Illegal alien is exactly the right term, and enforcement of the law is the basis of our society. Period. Full stop. Print it. It’s pinheads like you who make childish arguments like this that have gotten us into the mess we’re in now.

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