Mr. President, STOP Using “Illegal Aliens”

Mr. President, stop using the derogatory and inaccurate term, “illegal aliens”.

Last night, President Donald Trump repeatedly used those demeaning words in his speech from the Oval Office to instill fear and win favor for his campaign promise to build a border wall that many critics say is too costly and unnecessary.

Pulitzer prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, has long disputed the use of illegal as “offensive and inaccurate because it criminalizes people rather than their actions.”

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The term “illegal alien” implies that a person’s existence is criminal. I’m not aware of any other circumstance in our common vernacular where a crime is considered to render the individual – as opposed to the individual’s actions – as being illegal. We don’t even refer to our most dangerous and vile criminals as being “illegal.

-Shahid Haque-Hausrath, Immigration Attorney

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It is easy for politicians to blame a group of vulnerable people, often risking their lives in escaping terror, for the social and economic ills that plague a nation. For many “illegal alien” is synonymous with Mexican. The use of the racist motivated term has consequences that often lead to hate crimes. According to the FBI, Latinos are among the 6 most targeted communities for these types of attacks.

Hate-crime experts, victims and witnesses told News21 that two major factors have exacerbated the problem recently: a perceived climate of anti-immigrant animosity encouraged by the election of President Donald Trump; and fears of reporting to authorities, especially among undocumented immigrants who fear deportation.

Speaking on National Public Radio, Maria Hinojosa, anchor and managing editor of Latino USA, agrees that the Trump administration is in part responsible for the increase of violence against Latinos. “…for many people, they just hear a general message that says these people are a threat – they’re flooding into our country; they’re scary; they’re brown; they speak Spanish; they’re immigrants. And I think that that’s why we’re seeing these high numbers”, she said referencing a Department of Justice report, that Latinos and Hispanics in California are increasingly the subject of hate crimes (more than 50% increase since 2016.).

Guilty While Latino

The Trump administration’s support of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers partnering with local police to execute immigration laws, has increased racial profiling. 

 An investigation by the Los Angeles County inspector general is looking into a report by The Los Angeles Times that 69% of drivers who were stopped between 2012 and 2017 as part of an enforcement operation were Latino.

The trust between police and the communities they’re tasked with protecting is being irreparably damaged by the tension incited by the White House over immigration.

Even if the government officials use the terms “illegal alien”, journalists and news outlets must be responsible in the use of the problematic moniker in their coverage of the immigration debate. 

The Associated Press struck the phrase from its style guide in 2013, opting instead to refer to people as living in the country illegally instead of as illegal immigrants.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) continues to condemn the use of the term “illegal immigrants,” “illegal aliens” and “illegals” in describing people who are in this country without proper documentation. It’s not only insulting, but also journalistically irresponsible.

Spurred by DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s recent false claim about “special interest aliens” relation to terrorism, the NAHJ released a statement (http://www.nahj.org/2019/01/07/nahj-national-board-urges-media-fact-check-propaganda/) condemning the misrepresentation of minority communities that are repeatedly delivered by the Trump administration. 

This is an issue that extends beyond the Latino community. I have reached out to the presidents of like-kind news organizations (NABJ, AAJA, NAJA, NLGJA and others) encouraging them to use their position to also release statements challenging the administration’s misrepresentation of all marginalized groups.

Human beings are not “illegal”. The disparaging adjective is too often used to dehumanize a group of people, attempt to discredit them, question their motives for being in this country and silence their voices.

Instead of exasperating the increasing political and social division of immigration reform in their daily coverage, media must do better and offer sophisticated context that seeks solutions to complex problems.

For more stories like these, visit Straight Talk

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