The power of words


Claire Kosewic, Editor-in-Chief

Two million undocumented immigrants call California home — working here, sending their children to school here, going to church here, and paying taxes here. They are decent, hard-working individuals who are essential to the economic health of the nation.

Contrary to the label often used by President Donald J. Trump, they are not “illegals.” No human being is illegal. To label someone as illegal is to vilify their very existence. No person, simply by virtue of living on this Earth, is a crime.

Using the word illegal replaces complex legal statuses with an inaccurate assumption of guilt. “Illegal” criminalizes the personhood of the migrants.

Two years ago, I heard immigration rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas speak. In his presentation, he had a slide with the words, “Apartheid was legal. The Holocaust was legal. Slavery was legal. Colonialism was legal. Legality is a measure of power, not justice.”

As I watch the fiercely anti-immigrant agenda of the current presidential administration unfold, those words keep popping up in my head.

The White House argues its position comes from the threat immigrants pose to national security, the impact of immigration on government resources, and concerns that presence of immigrants in the United States threatens the “economic security of vulnerable American workers.”

Approximately 0.85 percent of undocumented immigrants are incarcerated, compared with about 1.53 percent of native-born citizens, according to the Cato Institute for Public Policy Research. While that may not sound like a huge difference, it means that native-born citizens are 180 percent more likely to be incarcerated than undocumented immigrants.

The labor of undocumented immigrants in California contributes about $180 billion to the economy, according to Betty T. Yee, the California State Controller. Undocumented workers are often the only ones willing to do the heavy manual labor farming demands — harvests would be impossible without their contributions, which could result in a nationwide food shortage.

Immigration, contrary to President Trump’s claims, has an overall positive impact on economic growth. Immigrants do not drive down wages, nor do they negatively impact employment prospects for native-born workers, according to a 2016 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Hardworking, honest individuals who cross the border in search of a better existence don’t need ridiculing and deportation from the government — they need a system which would offer them the opportunity to become naturalized citizens. If legal immigration were possible, illegal immigration wouldn’t even be a discussion.

Immigrants are not “illegals.” Their personhood is just as legal as anyone born in the United States.

Every person in America, save for those with Native American heritage, is an immigrant, or is descended from immigrants — it’s ironic to debate something so essential to the very foundation of this country.