Stop with the glorifying. “Illegal immigrant” isn’t a slur–it’s a hard fact

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Stop with the glorifying. “Illegal immigrant” isn’t a slur–it’s a hard fact

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I am the proud daughter of a legal immigrant. My mother’s family fled Lebanon in the ‘70s as civil war tore through the country, forcing them to seek refuge in the United States.

By no means was this an easy journey. Only after applying for green cards, getting screened for tuberculosis, proving that they weren’t going to live off of government handouts was my family able to reside in the U.S.

There is, however, one thing that devalues my mother’s story: the 10.7 million illegal immigrants residing in the U.S. as of 2016. In fact, illegal immigration reached a twelve year high in February with 76,000 border crossings, according to the Washington Examiner. My family went through all the pain and effort to come here legally, escaping a war on the other side of the world, only for illegal immigrants– although they may be fleeing their home countries for similar reasons– to completely avoid the immigration system.  

To make matters worse, the mainstream media only glorifies and focuses on them when this subject should be debated rationally as opposed to emotionally.  

Illegal immigration, back when immigrants first started arriving into the U.S. via checkpoints such as Castle Clinton, was not even a term given the lack of immigration legislation. It was not until late in the 19th century that any laws pertaining to immigration were passed, according to History.com. The first law issued was the racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned most immigration from China. More restrictive laws followed, and a delineation between legal and illegal immigrants began to appear, a trend especially prevalent today.

Even though illegal immigration is a topic of great contention, glorification is hardly new. In 2012, a CNN opinion article proclaimed that the term “illegal immigrant” is a slur, stating it infers that the person—not their actions—is illegal. I see it as a factual word rather than an insult because it refers to the act of being in a country illegally; the implication is not that the person themselves is illegal. Moreover, inferring that “illegal immigrant” is always a derogatory term is a stretch. This only serves to deviate from the fact that the term is a truth and I believe it should be recognized as such.

However, the rhetoric is not the only thing glorified. The overall portrayal of illegal immigration in the media is as well. In some of the most circulated news publications, there is an abundance of coverage on emotional topics, such as the recent surge in separation of families on the border. Don’t get me wrong—this is absolutely atrocious and should never be repeated. Events like the separation of families and tear gassing are very real and emotionally painful. But a line must be drawn somewhere. I counted a total of 38 stories in the New York Times (NYT) solely on the recent increase of the separation of families written within the last year. The problem is not the amount of stories they’ve written, but more so the content. The articles boast headlines such as “The Scars of Family Separation,” “The Continued Tragedy of the Separated Children” and “Migrant Parents Separated From Children Return to U.S., Plead to Be Reunited,” a story written by Reuters and published by NYT. By packing so much emotion into the subject of illegal immigration, it makes it harder for a sensible solution to this hot-button issue to be reached. Additionally, emotion only serves to stray from the facts: these people are not American citizens. It’s beyond confusing and angering to me how my family and countless others come to the United States legally, going to great lengths to become naturalized citizens the right way, only for the media to highlight those who enter our nation illegally. I do not want to discredit illegal immigrants’ stories, but legal immigrants’ stories can be just as heart-wrenching, like my mother’s. It pains me to see them not be told because of political bias.

The mainstream liberal media, however, is not uniquely at fault for distorting the subject of illegal immigration emotionally. More conservative sources tend to demonize illegal immigrants. An article written by The Center for Immigration Policies, a non-profit in favor of lower immigration rates, recommends that Americans tell emotionally-charged stories about illegal immigrants committing crimes in an attempt to motivate immigration reform. It also asks viewers to read “Illegal aliens: Turning the Dreams of American Children into Nightmares,” a fictional short story written by The Center for Immigration about how several American children’s lives were ruined after Kenyan illegal immigrants stole their Social Security numbers. The site describes it as being an accurate depiction of what illegal immigrants do to American children, even though it’s a fictional account.

How is this useful in any way? Publishing a fictional story under the pretext of it being accurate undermines other arguments made from the same point of view. The mainstream media may be biased, but in this case, fighting fire with fire is not going to solve anything. Illegal immigration is an issue that needs to be debated rationally; emotion will only inflame the already heated topic. Some of the earliest pieces of immigration legislation, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, were based on the nativist sentiment felt by large numbers of the American population. This only led to the segregation of Chinese immigrants, and they were unable to integrate themselves into American society.

As a result, emotion in relation to illegal immigration must be avoided at all costs. Not only does it prolong the debate and heighten tensions on both sides, but it also serves to disregard the experiences and achievements of legal immigrants.