Illegal: The Language of Politics and Compassion

immigration

I begin my blog posts like any true professional: a basic Google search containing some combination of the words I am interested in. (The tab situation on my Chrome browser is so overloaded, I fear I’m writing on borrowed time until my computer kicks it.)

I am currently sitting at seven tabs encompassing variations on “the cost of illegal immigration.” Full disclosure: that will be the last time I refer to undocumented immigrants as, “illegal.” A human being is never “illegal.” Certainly, people can be here illegally , but the mere existence of a human being in a certain location does not make them illegal. To shed light on this double standard, a good analogy is that we rarely, if ever, refer to a person who trespasses on private property as “illegal.” We can be reasonably sure they are committing a crime, but we don’t generally believe that their presence on forbidden property transforms their entire existence into “illegal.”

Should undocumented people not be afforded the same consideration simply because they, in essence, “trespass” for longer periods of time?

I am fully prepared for an eye rolling complaint that I am heavy handed with the political correctness, but come at me. Words matter. The way we contextualize politics shapes the way we look at the world. It should come as no surprise that when you are accustomed to referring to a person as illegal, essentially equating their physical being with a crime, you grow desensitized to their existence altogether.

You might wonder why I am spending so much time defending my insistence that we should stop calling undocumented immigrants “illegal aliens.” The reality is that Obama deported a record number of immigrants during his presidency. It is impossible to predict how many people Trump will eventually deport (he has claimed between 3 and 11 million individuals) but we aren’t doing ourselves any favors by forgetting that Obama deported more people than George W. Bush did. Ultimately, the difference in how many people Trump deports versus Obama might be negligible.

So if Obama deported 2.5 million people, and Trump eventually deports 3 million, why the outrage over 500,000 people when there was little public response to Obama’s record deportations?

This is an excellent question, and one that I have seen posed by many Trump supporters in the comment sections of Facebook that I just can’t seem to stop reading. My theory is that it all boils down to rhetoric. Remember how words matter? Donald Trump ran his presidential campaign on a platform of open hostility towards the Hispanic population in general and undocumented immigrants specifically. His campaign was the perfect distillation of relegating a human being’s entire existence to an illegal act. In fact, it is often hard for me to tell the difference between the claims he makes in an official capacity and the ridiculous things people say in those same comment sections. You cannot claim that Mexican immigrants are rapists, killers, and druglords who are stealing all of our jobs without providing some very specific data to back that up. To my knowledge, Trump has never offered anything of the sort.

And therein lies the problem. It is extraordinarily difficult to have a nuanced, productive conversation with someone who is capable of reducing an entire country of people to careless stereotypes. It is equally difficult for me to expect that same person to have compassion for undocumented immigrants as individuals if they are so easily seduced by the notion that Mexico is sending only their “bad killers” to live here illegally.

I do suspect, however, that it is much easier to justify mass deportations if you don’t recognize facts that are inconvenient to your world view. Consider, for example, that undocumented immigrants contributed $11.6 billion in state and local taxes in 2016. Those are tax dollars that they won’t benefit from, but citizens will. They are not eligible for most government assistance programs. Or that immigrants are integral to the landscape of the American job-market.

It also makes it easy to ignore the reality of daily life in America for someone who is undocumented. There exist a great many narratives that describe these experiences. Diane Guerrero (fans of Orange is the New Black will recognize her as the character “Maritza”) released a memoir in 2016 that illustrated, in devastating detail, the consequences of being born in America to undocumented parents. I dare anyone to read it and not sympathize with a teenager who comes home from school to find her parents ousted from the country.

I do not cite these examples to ignore the problems that exist because of illegal immigration. But we have covered, exhaustively, the cost it presents to U.S. citizens. They were, after all, a focal point of Donald Trump’s campaign, and continue to be a sticking point as he begins his tenure as president. I think it is imperative that we consider the cost to undocumented immigrants when we cease to acknowledge their individual humanity and instead regard them as a crime statistic.

I don’t have an answer to the question of mass deportation. I do know that the focus of Obama’s efforts was on immigrants who had committed crimes aside from illegal immigration, were already imprisoned, or were being sought for arrest. Trump’s focus on illegal immigration is just starting to emerge, and perhaps it won’t look all that different from Obama’s. But I do know that the language he uses to communicate those plans is more incendiary, and that we must all be vigilant in recognizing his reductionist approach for what it is: a scare tactic aimed at galvanizing Americans into believing the stereotypes he perpetuates.

Further Reading

  • “Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives,” Compiled and edited by Peter Orner
  • “Just Like Us,” by Helen Thorpe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nostalgia & Dissent: America After Obama

obama

This blog is a departure for me in that I intend it to be well researched, carefully worded, and a lot more formal than I am accustomed to publishing. When you are used to writing what essentially amounts to public diary entries, nuanced socio-political commentary feels foreign and intimidating.

I would like the experience of crafting a blog post to remain cathartic and (at times) pleasurable, but the levity that fueled my old projects is gone. I often find myself struggling to strike the balance between creativity and the overwhelming desire to punch a hole through my computer screen every time I read the news.

The political world we are currently navigating is likely uncharted territory for most of us. A good friend recently described the last eight years as, “Obama, take the wheel.” It was sort of a joke, but it rang true. It is impossible not to contrast my feelings of helplessness, confusion, and impotent rage with the trust that I felt in the prior administration’s governing abilities (to say nothing of Obama’s utterly diplomatic presence, calming influence, and inspiring public speaking abilities.)

This is not to say that I agreed with every decision the Obama administration made.  But I never doubted that President Obama chose to do that job because he cared enough about the United States to take on the responsibility of governing it.

I was also never concerned that his fatuous use of 140 character social media blasts would put us in real danger. Hell, I would settle for Donald Trump not ending half of his tweets with, “SAD!” at this point.

But I digress.

I created this blog for several reasons. First, I want to contribute to the national dialogue and, ultimately, critique of our current administration, small as my contributions may be. Dissent is therapeutically patriotic, and I intend to do a lot of that for the next (dear god) four years. Second, it turns out that I genuinely miss writing, even though it is a colossal pain in the ass 97% of the time you are doing it. But, in dubious and unhappy times, it has always given me a means to process what I am feeling and find some peace. Third, and at the risk of sounding facile, I expect to learn a lot. I want to understand more about politics, the government, human nature, and my own limitations, among many other things that have yet to be revealed to me.

I am already deeply nostalgic for a moment that existed, like, 13 days ago. But here we are.

I didn’t vote for any of this. 2.9 million more of us did not vote for this. But here we are.

And so here I am, determined to find a way to make the halcyon days of administrations past a goal for the future.

 

-Brittany

 

In Which Satan Tries to Trick Us All With T-rex Bones, Or, “Why I Am An Egghead.”

A completely reliable source that I found on Google suggests that there were roughly 152 million blogs on the internet in 2013 (or 15 web years ago.) For context, if every person in Russia had a blog, then you would still have 8,000,000 unclaimed blogs. So you can imagine my hemming and hawing when it came to choosing a blog title and theme that had not already been chosen. (There was a lot of it.)

I have created several different blogs, so you might expect that I would remember how painful and overwhelming this process can be. You would be wrong. I fired up my WordPress account, ready to take on the world by keyboarding storm. Completely forgetting that between me and saving the world stood an empty, nameless, blackhole of a blog. I spent so much time worrying about what ingredients make a website successful that it was at risk of no longer being relevant by the time I finally decided. (Or being nuked in an arms race started at the Twitter suggestion that Donald Trump’s hands are smaller than a toddler’s. Whichever came first.)

As is often the case when you fall down an internet rabbit hole, I stumbled onto a little nugget of promise as I researched variations of liberal, feminism, bluestocking, and intellectual. Buried in a pile of related Google searches was the word, “egghead.”

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Based on a hodgepodge of sources including, but not limited to, Urban Dictionary, I learned that the term has been used to describe intellectuals, journalists, and academics. The liberal elite, if you will. The term rose dramatically in popularity in 1952 when Richard Nixon, while running for president, used it to describe his Democratic competition Adlai Stevenson. (Also, Stevenson was bald. So, points for being on the nose.) In 1964, Richard Hofstadter’s, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” examined the rise in resistance to intellectualism as it was perceived to be out of touch with every day Americans. The resistance was rooted in the idea that Americans did not have to be professors, writers, or highbrow academics to be considered an expert on something. (A fair reservation to hold.)

This very specific moment in American political history appealed to me as I sat there, creating a blog in 2017 because so little has changed in our discourse and political leanings. Except, as I see it, the degree to which some Americans have taken literally the need to diverge from intellectualism, fact, and expertise.

Consider the Evangelical Baptist tendency to interpret the Bible literally. I will draw from personal experience to paint an accurate picture for you. I was enrolled in a fundamental Baptist school during 6, 7, and 8th grades. Our science class relied heavily on the Bible to provide context for our lessons, so the content was geared towards a literal interpretation of the passages. In one lesson I will never forget, the Old Testament teaches us that men lived to be many hundreds of years old. How could this be possible when the average human life expectancy with modern medical technology is a mere 70-80 years old? The answer lies in the extra canopy of oxygen that surrounded the Earth before the great flood. This canopy provided super nutrients that made humans live to be, roughly, 900 years old. (Also, dinosaur fossils and radiometric dating were put on Earth by Satan to trick us into believing the world is older than 5,000 years old. Science!)

This is a complete departure from the idea that everyday Americans wanted to feel recognized for their contributions to society without giving lectures or writing books. Instead, we are creating laws and regulations based on the whims of Americans who, at the very least, appear to distrust science, facts, and data, if not outright disdain them altogether. We have a mountain of evidence proving that climate change is real and happening very fast. Yet we now have an administration that scoffs and seeks to remove barriers that would protect the environment. Data proves that safe, comprehensive, and affordable reproductive care for women means fewer abortions. But here we are, having to ask how easy it will be for Trump and his administration to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

 

All of this is to say:

If believing in climate change and the need for laws that protect the environment makes me an egghead, god damn, I’m an egghead!

If believing that women should have full control over their destinies AND ovaries, then god damn, am I an egghead.

If knowing that truth, reason, equality, and justice are essential to the fabric of American democracy, then god damn, I’m an egghead.

~Brittany