Ask the White Guy: Is the Term ‘Illegal Immigrant’ Offensive?

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.

Comment:
I’ve tended to notice more people using undocumented, without papers, noncitizens, etc. Is it rude, racist to say illegal? I’m also curious to know what exactly, or who exactly these illegal immigrants’ rights people are fighting for. BTW, I think it is very offensive to compare the fight for the rights of illegals to that of Blacks, which were already citizens. The law states that race cannot be used to make stops. The police will not, and cannot stop you on the street. But truly the most ironic thing about this whole issue is with all of this talk about “rights” there has been very little in regards to responsibility.

Response:
Regarding rights, please refer to the Declaration of Independence. It states that rights come from the creator; governments are formed by people to administer the protection of these rights. Further, the rights are “unalienable” and do not belong exclusively to people with certain documents or within a boundary. These rights are for all people. So, therefore, describing a human being as “illegal” should be offensive to any loyal American. It’s more offensive than spitting on someone.

Further, there are an estimated 10 to 16 million undocumented people in this country. Do you think they’re here by mistake? They’re here because they were needed—and they were allowed to work here without restriction. Do you blame the undocumented, or do you blame the people responsible for the administration of our borders?

In 2006, Newt Gingrich wrote an article for National Review that contained this sentence: “In 2004, there were zero (0) federal enforcement fines imposed on American employers who were breaking the law by hiring people illegally.” What Newt doesn’t catch is that this is evidence of a conspiracy. People who are here without documents don’t have Social Security numbers—they use fake cards or other people’s numbers. That means that the federal government collected billions of dollars in Social Security taxes without a corresponding expectation to pay benefits. If the people in the federal government had Italian last names, the FBI would crawl all over this. The people responsible would be prosecuted under RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act and the Ill-Gotten Gains would be confiscated. So I agree with you about not hearing enough about “responsibility,” but it’s not the kind of responsibility you’re thinking of.

Follow-up Comment:
Just as an aside; what happens when Mexico finds out someone is an “illegal immigrant” [sic] in their country? You stated that “these people are here because they were needed,” etc. and “What Newt didn’t catch is that this is evidence of a conspiracy.” OK, so be it, maybe it was. Uh, let’s try to fix that, maybe by enforcing our own immigration laws? But really, do you think that ALL of the ‘Undocumented Workers” paid into Social Security? What it comes down to is that the U.S. has laws, protocol if you will, for people who want to have the same benefits as a U.S. citizen. These people are breaking our own law, and AZ is trying to enforce it. What’s happened to hospitals along the border, schools also? Whatever happened to border security? Remember that, please. The security of the U.S. is in danger because we really don’t know who’s coming into our country. The AZ law does not call out people from Mexico. If a person deserves to get stopped for a traffic violation, and that person doesn’t have a driver’s license or insurance, or if there is any reasonable suspicion, the officer can inquire about that person’s legal status. The officers are being trained, they have consequences if they get out of line. Just take a breather people. Racial profiling?? Get a grip people. According to the ’09 Census, 30 percent of AZ’s population is Hispanic. These Hispanics are U.S. Citizens or documented, “going through our system.” Do you realize the police force it would take to stop somebody and question them if they were “racial profiling.” They don’t have the time or the resources. Check this out. The only reason we caught the Times Square terrorist Faisal Shahzad is because he became a U.S. Citizen last year. That’s what I call border security. Come to this country the right way, or don’t come at all.

Ask the White Guy Response:
I didn’t say the porous borders we have are a positive thing. I said they constituted a criminal act. I am not a Mexican citizen, so I will not comment on their constitution and how they treat their citizens. The situation speaks for itself; the fences are not for Americans trying desperately to work in Mexico. I completely agree with you about people emigrating here legally. The problem is the current system is dysfunctional—and we have human beings here who need to be treated like human beings (because that’s what our founding documents demand of us). I am not comfortable with police arbitrating constitutional rights.

On your other point: Let’s say half of the undocumented people working in this country pay into Social Security—they ALL pay sales tax. It amounts to billions of dollars collected … quite a racket. ZERO enforcements as little as six years ago. ZERO. Not even ONE.

This law absolutely promotes racial profiling. They’re not concerned about Polish undocumented workers in Arizona. This is all about Mexicans. It’s nonsensical to give rhetorical arguments to tangible situations. This law is all about rabble rousing and race baiting. It’s hateful and anti-American.

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29 Comments

  • Whether or not the term “illegal immigrant” is offensive makes no difference. Some people can detect a pea of “offense” underneath 8 mattresses. What you see depends on what you’re looking for.

    Is the term “illegal immigrant” factually accurate or not? The answer can only come from each case in question.

    Racial or ethnic profiling is equally repugnant and reactionary. Yet, universities continue to practice it proudly with their racist double standards admissions policies all the time….that they trade under the benign but dishonest flag of “diversity.”

  • If the labor laws were enforced in the United States, and the employers whio enrich themselves by hiring undocumented workers were forced to obey the relevant laws, then their profits would decline drastically. The Republican Party’s money guys love “illegal immigation” because they profit from it, then turn around and gain votes by exploiting the backlash against it.

    By the way, if your ancestors weren’t here in 1492, then you’re descended from illegal immigrants too. Get over it. Some of the Hispanic population of Arizona had been in North American for centuries before we formed the United States (with, let it be noted, no participation by any actual Native Americans in that process).

  • I completely agree that this law does nothing but encourage “Minutemen” and “Patriots” to harass people with brown skin….PERIOD! I am an American born Hispanic veteran (17+ years active duty, 3 tours in Iraq) and I KNOW that for every well meaning, law-abiding police officer, there are many more “Oath Breakers” who relish the opportunity to pull folks over with no cause….I mean, really….how many vehicles get stopped on the road for inoperable tail lights? Yet that will be masqueraded as “probable cause” to stop people. Also, as you pointed out, there won’t be any folks of fairer, more acceptable complexions lined up being asked for papers or being deported back home to the other side of the Atlantic.

  • As usual, you take on the Marxist philosophy. How can a law be anti-American when over 70 percent of the state of Arizona favors it? So you condone people paying into social security after they have committed identity theft which is the only way they could do so being in the country illegally. More than likely those who stole the social security numbers were also those who took out illegal mortgages which is the fault of many but their fault as well. The law is not about rabble rousing and race bating. When can you ever get off of that kick? The American people favor Arizona law and others are taking notice and passing their own. They realize that with 10 percent unemployment the old argument that the people where illegally are doing jobs Americans will not do is not valid. If you want a true picture of how the National Council of La Raza feels about taking this country back, listen to the clip from UCLA on WMAL website. That clip should send shivers down the spine of all real Americans.

  • Anonymous

    Luke: Great column.

    You say that you are “not comfortable with police arbitrating constitutional rights”. Here’s the flaw with your logic: If you are not comfortable with police arbitrating constitutional rights in the context of the immigration issue, then you’d also have to be uncomfortable with police arbitrating constitutional rights for arrests made for misdemeanors and felonies, at traffic stops, and in other contexts as well. When the police pulls me over for speeding, he is not racially profiling me. I broke a law and he is doing his job: enforcing that law.

    In point of fact, the police are exactly who you lament them for being: the arbiters of our Constitutional rights and We the People, via our elected representatives, grant the police that power via the Constitution.

    Your argument, in essence, is completely out of order and inaccurate.

    The term “illegal immigrant” is not an offensive or racist descriptor. It is legalese. Someone who is from another country(an immigrant) and is here illegally (meaning against the laws of this nation) is a criminal and by law should be expelled from the country. Race is not part of the equation in the eyes of the law and you are saying that it should be. I would assert that by making race the issue, we’d have to literally invent legal terms that describe each and every distinct racial group that has ever come into this country. For example: “Uninvited German Immigrant”; “Uninvited Somalian Immigrant”, etc. Fortunately, the Constitution does not allow for such linguistic gymnastics to take place in the eyes of the law. Only in our social, media, and political spheres have we warped the English language so badly.

    Law enforcement has a responsibility to do enforce this legislation humanely (i.e. no overt beatings, racist epithets, or other abuses) but that’s where their responsibility starts and stops. The police are not a non-profit organization or an agent of change or transformation. They are society’s protection against those people who, for whatever circumstance in their life, choose to commit a crime and your expectation for performance for law enforcement bodies is completely unrealistic.

    Your suggested treatment of the term “illegal immigrant” opines that it is alright to disregard and to flout the law. In the USA, whether or not the laws are morally bankrupt, no one is above those laws. I, as a Spanish teacher, happen to agree with you that many laws we have are silly and draconian and many more that are legally bankrupt. I am from Massachusetts and up until recently, we could not buy beer on Sundays. I would think to myself: “What, am I living in high school?”

    Our laws, and therefore our society, will not change until we the people, via the democratic process available to us, urge Congress and the Senate to change those laws into whatever manifestation we want, or until we elect a President with the brass cojones to confront these laws and use the power of his executive seat to really turn the battleship around.

    Simply going online and shouting “racist” will enact no actual change in reality and you are only serving to add static to a discourse that is already completely exhausted and divisive.

    Have you ever been to the Mexican border, by the way? I have. It’s a violent place filled with people with rocket-propelled grenades and is essentially a war zone. I’ve seen people shot down there. You are sitting in the comfort of an office and if you’ve never been, then you really have no clue of the horror.

    What should be done is to back out the insurgents who are there now by force and close the border off. In the interim, our legislators will have the time and freedom to be able to create humane immigration laws.

    Something that both sides of the political spectrum constantly skirt for the sorry sake of political correctness, when it comes to this issue is the following: it is impossible to revamp the border laws while this “immigration war” goes on. The solution is to shut the border down. I mean two things: 1. cancel the failed war on drugs and 2. the President of the USA goes on television and tells the whole world that for 2 years, the USA’s border is closed while we make improvements to our laws and that the border will re-open in such-and-such a year.

    However, common sense is nearly absent in a politically-correct society, so I doubt that our leaders will ever do the right thing and actually solve the problem, the solution to which is so painfully clear, and if executed in the fashion I described, is the most humane.

    For 2 years, there would be no fighting on the border, no racial profiling, and no tax payer money wasted and then we could re-open the gates with whatever the new laws we devised in place.

    Thanks for hearing me out. Great column. Keep it up.

  • Anonymous

    While it’s true that the government does not pay out social security benefits to undocumented workers, the same is not true of sales tax. Sales tax revenues are used by states and municipalities to fund a wide variety of programs including highway O&M, parks and recreation, fire & EMS services, etc. If an undocumented worker drives on a public highway or enjoys a public park, then they have received benefits arising from the sales tax they paid.

  • Anonymous

    How about we set up some posts down in AZ and elsewhere around the boarder and when someone crosses the boarder they can check-in, get a SSN, a physical, and be given a three-year pass. At that time they report back to be granted citizenship. This is America, people come here so they and their families can have a better life. I as well as everyone else born here have that privilege, how about we extend it to others as well.

  • Anonymous

    In response to quest #1 comment “racial/ethnic profiling… universitys practice it proudly…” What universities practice is affirmative action. What do you call it when only whites could join unions, become firemen, buy houses, etc? The AZ law doesn’t say “Mexicans” but believe me that is who will be pulled over and asked to show their documentation. What about the Hispanic person who was born here – is an American citizen – do they need to carry around their birth certicates? Seems like apartheid – when South African Black citizens could not leave their townships without carrying their documents. Is that what America has become?

  • Anonymous

    I can’t remember a time when I didn’t wholeheartedly agree with Luke’s well-balanced opinions on subjects of this nature. His response to this question is no exception. I believe that all people deserve to be treated with human dignity. As long as the Lady stands in the Harbor beckoning the poor and tired masses, America will open its doors and present opportunities to those who come here. We are in dire need of immigration reform that affects all undocumented people on all of our borders. It should facilitate their ability to become citizens so that adjustments to our infrastructure are reflective of all of our citizens. The undocumented and American employers must act with integrity and responsibly. Our health care system, employment opportunities, and our justice system will work more effectively and better serve all people if we strive to live up to the constitution and implement fair and equitable immigration reforms. The Arizona law is simply un-American and should be repealed immediately.

  • Anonymous

    The AZ law is a huge step backward. It doesn’t solve the problem, it creates other problems. It’s offensive and strips people of their dignity. My grandfather was second generation American born citizen. As a young man in New Mexico he was deported to Mexico simply because of the color of his skin. A second attempt at deportation failed because he was able to speak with the immigration official in charge. This occured in the 1930s. Do we really have to go back to a time where ignorance and intolerance prevailed?

  • Anonymous

    What too many people forget is that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes a point of virtually nullifying borders. Article 13 states: •”(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. •(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” That article exists for a reason. In 1939, the St. Louis of the Hamburg-Amerika Line was turned back by the US as consisting of illegal aliens: 937 Jewish refugees from Germany. Many Jewish Germans were turned back at the border to Switzerland. Thus, the article. It was wrong for Germany to wall in and ghettoize Jews; it was wrong for East-European regimes to wall in and ghettoize their own citizens; it is wrong for Israelis to wall in and ghettoize Palestinians; and it is decidedly wrong for US-Americans to wall in and ghettoize Latin-Americans. A global market entails by necessity also a global labor-market. Free movement of people is an essential and inalienable right. If we worry about losing some of our wealth in that process, we should perhaps reflect that we have gathered too much of it already and we did so not by some god’s blessings either.

  • Anonymous

    It is obvious that Luke has been on very few university admissions committees or faculty hiring committees in recent years. Diversity is a code-word for racial, ethnic and gender double standards……and the whole toxic and illberal process is widely acknowledged even if with rationalizations and alibis…it is touted and lauded even when patently illegal and corrupting….. Anyone who believes universities are stronger institutions that provide better educated students thanks to “diversity’s” pernicious use of double standards exists in a dreamworld.

    Racial or ethnic profiling is odious and reprehensible……whether in the state of Arizona or on university committees……..rty it if you like, but you cannot attack racial and ethnic profiling in one domain and shroud it with euphemisms in another. Such hypocrisy is obvious by the tortured alibis used by its defenders…… we all know it.

  • Anonymous

    I’m wondering if someone from Moldova, Ukraine or berserkistan, were to enter the country in an undocumented fashion if it would be OK to call them an “illegal immigrant”?
    It seems to me that most people assume undocumented Aliens are of the Hispanic persuasion.

  • Anonymous

    Luke;
    You point out the hypocritical point that many continue to miss: those who actually (and actively) sustain the ingress of undocumented workers are businesses that hire/exploit them and those of us who turn a blind eye to that reality.

    The substandard wages undocumented workers are willing to accept, and the exploitation they are willing to endure speaks to the how bad the Mexican economy is, how lax federal and state governments are in enforcing existing labor laws, how desperate undocumented worker are, and how willfully ignorant American consumers are about how goods and services are produced.

    The idea that undocumented immigrants are “stealing American jobs” is the biggest joke of all. I suspect that if the intent of the Arizona law and those xenophobes who want to remove illegal immigrants (i.e. Mexicans) from our borders is successful, we will begin to understand the impact when- among other potential wake up calls – we’re paying five dollars for a tomato or orange, or ten dollars for a head of lettuce.

    Re: the term, “illegal immigrants” … as an HR professional, it reminds me of the term “qualified women and minorities” that was in general use at one time. Having never heard the term “qualified White males” or been in a company that knowingly hired anyone “unqualified”, I saw the term as offensive to me as a Black man and as a man who respects women.

    An unfortunate reality that has surfaced in this post 9/11, post Obama-elected-as-POTUS, recessionary era is that fear, ignorance and racism and xenophobia are alive and well and living in America. Even more unfortunate is the reality that there are those willing to exploit to feelings for political expediency.

  • Anonymous

    The border is not nearly as violent as people portray, although there is drug violence across the border, in Mexico itself. One way to prevent drug-related violence in the US would be to end the so-called War on Drugs and treat drug use via social and medical programs, not through the so-called criminal justice system, which is not always just and sometimes criminal

  • Anonymous

    The whole AZ thing is just a proxy for discrimination, the old “if only we got rid of ‘them’” everything would be all right maxim. Every despot, tyrant, and their supporters, has used that to rise to power. The fact is that there really isn’t an illegal immigration problem in this country.

  • Anonymous

    We have to consider the big picture in this saga. Our population is experiencing an almost zero growth in population. At the same time, we are living longer. SS is funded by people who work – we have to increase the work-force in order to make SS solvent. There are two ways to do this: Either encourage Americans to have more children or invite more immigrants to work here. The latter is not going to happen. Therefore, immigrants have to rescue SS, among other things. I like the point made about the creator – go White boy.

  • Anonymous

    As creator of the first comment I have to say, you missed the point on several of my arguments…..First regarding responsibility, I think any business, or individual that solicits work from an “undocumented” individual should turn over all business or private property respectively they own to the government. We need tough measures to keep businesses as well as individuals from employing them. So I do agree with 98% of america on that. While we also have rights that allow us entry and exit from our country, we also have to have an expectation from our government to keep us safe. Part of doing that is limiting entry to those who would do us no harm. By an “open borders” standard, the russian army could march right in and we’d have to sit back and watch, less we violate their “civil liberties.” The same is true for felons, drug traffickers, known terrorists, etc. The government has an obligation to keep its citizens safe from known dangers. What I find truly most offensive, is this mainly liberal notion that all police officers are bad people, out to violate people’s rights, harass them, etc. They work extremely hard, physically and mentally. They see kids ran over by “speeders” and have to help clean up their bodies. They see shootings and blood daily, and get paid next to nothing for their efforts. Yet, those very same people who harass the police, make trouble for them, and resent them, are the very same people who expect them at their door within a minute of something happening. And guess what, they show up! Because they are protecting a community from itself, and dealing with jerks is something most officers have become good at.

  • Anonymous

    Luke,

    I read the whole law as you requested.

    How does this law actually circumvent the Constitution?

    Here is a direct citation from the text; “The provisions of this act are intended to work together to discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United
    States.”

    UNLAWFUL, Luke. This is a word, the meaning of which liberals in America continue to ignore over and over. Unlawful means against the law, in case you cannot recall.

    You express the following concern: “Lawful contact” can be walking down the sidewalk – it does not mean you are in the process of a criminal act.”

    Luke, are you intentionally trying to trick everyone? Being in ANY country illegally means that you are in the process of a criminal act. If you go to France and stay there beyond 30 days with no visa, and then you walk down the street for a baguette and some coffee, guess what? You are there illegally. Does that make visas racist? Are the French all anti-American? Nope. Not a snowball’s chance in hell.

    Whether you agree or disagree with a law, the fact remains that it is a law.

    This law has nothing to do with RACE. It has to do with IMMIGRATION STATUS and therein lies a key distinction. You can sit on as many boards of as many major universities as you want. That does not change the fact that right now, in Houston, TX, a gang called Tango Blast, with something in the neighborhood of 150,000 members are primed to murder, rape, and steal. They are young, armed, and angry. A serious transformation is required of these people if we are to realistically expect that they will join and participate in civil society. Singing kumbaya, holding hands, and hoping that they don’t want to kill is not part of that requisite transformation.

    There is a Latino teacher in Los Angeles who is calling for an armed revolt against all the “frail, racist white people”. Gee, what a nice message to send to children. You can see him on youtube, talking to a group of his students and saying how proud he would be if they would join the revolution. He is calling 15 year old kids to armed action against people of another race, but that’s OK because he has dark skin and was historically oppressed, right? Wrong.

    No one is above the law in the United States and your circumstances and race do not make a contrary claim so.

    Are these folks lives and this law the product of “systemic racism”? Or, are they just a bunch of jaded and angry people who never had any parents to look after them and no opportunity.

    You see, Luke, here’s the dynamic you are ignore: the door swings both ways on these race arguments because it is now, due in large part to the election of Obama, it is officially impossible to accuse every single white man in America of racist motives just because he has thoughts and opinions that differ from yours.

    This is the hypocrisy of the university system that some other Guests to this site point out and as a former PhD student in a foreign language department at a major university, the professor with whom I was working on my dissertation was no-way, no-how going to let me write any dissertation, the terms of which he did not essentially dictate to me… DICTATE being the operative word.

    In my eyes, the text of this bill has nothing to do with matters of race objectively. It has to do with matters of nationality and national origin, or from whence someone originates is the focus of the bill – not what color they are. That argument only appears once you filter the bill through the semantic lens of the logically-absurd politically correct.

    You create a straw-man argument that serves a specific political agenda and there are plenty of independent thinkers who don’t appreciate being lied to.

    Shutting down the borders would cause an economic depression you say?

    Intuitively, I doubt it. However, I’d go to the mats with you over some data on that claim.

    Prove it, Luke. Get out the data, buddy. How would closing the borders for 2 years cause an economic depression?

    Again, thanks for the article, the rousing debate and for hearing me out.

  • Anonymous

    Luke…Thanks for the article….it hit home for me…..It is very frightening to read what people who have not been through the immigration process tend to say about allowing immigrants legally into the USA, which by the way, when do you think the US would allow people to come to work as gardeners, cooks, maids or factory workers to legally come into the US.
    I am 36 years old and have lived in the US since I was 12. That constitutes 24 years of my life. I became a permanent resident through the NACARA law back in the year 2000; fourteen years of my life I was an “undocumented human being”, for about 5 years of that period I was old enough to work, I did not steal anybody’s identity, I used a made up SSN, like a lot of the people that work in the USA. I paid into SS for all that time and when I became a permanent resident none of it was applied towards my benefits. I was not able to collect on all the withholding taxes that my employer paid on my behalf either.

    Every case has its own individual circumstances, I know people that have spend 10 years or more working in the US, contributing to SS, state and federal taxes and when they file their income tax returns they receive a letter letting them know that their SSN does not match to US records, therefore their refunds are reduced to $0.
    I wrote all this to say the following: We need an immigration reform. We need those hard working people to receive benefits that they have paid into and deserve. We also need to identify law breakers and make them pay for their crimes. However, we can not accomplish this if we do not have an immigration reform.

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