Monday, October 16, 2006

Immigration, Precision, and Casebook Authors with Agendas

In my Immigration Law class, the author of our casebook, Stephen Legomsky, has an agenda. That's probably not surprising, but I don't know when I've seen it quite so blatent, or done with such potential for misunderstanding the subject matter because of it.

Specifically, I find it very troubling that in the very first pages of the book, anounces that he will henceforth refuse to use the term “alien,” except in direct quotes, as he feels it “str[ikes] a disturbing chord,” and that it (even without the “illegal”):

"...connotes dehumanizing qualities of either strangeness or inferiority (space aliens come readily to mine), and that its use builds walls, strips human beings of their essential dignity, and needlessly reinforces an ‘outsider’ status. Some believe that its constant use and repetition also solidify racial and cultural stereotypes." Stephen H. Legomsky, Immigration and Refugee Law and Policy, 4th Ed. (2005), Pg. 1-2.

Ridiculous. And remember, this is even without the “illegal.”

“Alien” is a term of art with a precise legal meaning. It is central to the language of our statutes and our case law on immigration. It has nothing to do with racism, ethnocentrism, “basic human dignity,” or any other euphemism for “bigot” people use to vilify their opponents when the facts aren’t in their favor. Instead, he uses the term “noncitizen,” which he fully acknowledges to be less precise. Political Correctness just won another battle against Academic Integrity.

To refuse to use a term which describes a legal status that is central to the topic of the book you are writing does a grave disservice to those of us who are more interested in understanding the current state of the law than in the author’s policy preferences. It is like refusing to use the word “husband” in a family law class, because one thinks gay marriage should be legal.

Even worse is the refusal to use the term “illegal alien,” and the attempt to demonize those who do. Logomsky complains it is a “pejorative, irritating, and technically meaningless term,” ironically complaining that it has no “statutory or legal warrant.” He even stoops to the meaningless “no-person-is-illegal” meme – not that he insists on calling them “criminals.” Legomsky at 1192.

Again, “alien” is a legal term of art which refers to a certain legal status, not unlike the word “husband” in that sense. “Illegal” isn’t modifying the person, but the status descriptor noun “alien.” Their status is indeed illegal, as they are here in contravention of the law. Just as one could accurately be described as an “illegal husband” for marrying a girl too young to consent, the term is both useful and accurate.

With accuracy as the goal, compare “illegal aliens” to “undocumented migrants,” Legomsky’s preferred euphemism. A “migrant” can refer to anyone. It doesn’t tell you if they’re coming or going. It doesn’t tell you if they’re moving across state lines or international ones – citizens can be, and are, migrant farm workers. It doesn’t even tell you if they’re an alien – not all aliens are “migrating.” It has no “statutory or legal warrant,” which is so selectively important to the author. And it implies that people move all over international boundaries all the time, almost as if there’s as many Americans sneaking into Mexico as the other way around.

As for “Undocumented,” it can have so many meanings that it’s meaningless. Does it mean you don’t have documentation with you, or never got it at all? De minimus immigration violations? The implication certainly is that it’s merely a technical violation. “Undocumented” makes me think of driving with my license and insurance information at home, as opposed to “illegally” driving after never having obtained a license in the first place. The second is far worse, and is far more analogous to the situation of people sneaking across the border.

What’s more, there are plenty of illegal aliens who are documented to the nines – it’s just forged or stolen documentation. And there are plenty of perfectly legal undocumented aliens, such as those commuting back and forth from Canada or Mexico, or people awaiting status determinations.

If “Illegal” has pejorative or negative connotations, it’s because it should. We live in a society that respects the rule of law, and looks down upon those who ignore it. That’s part of American culture. It’s a reason people come here – they flee the lawless regimes of their home where their property and fundamental rights exist only at the pleasure of the corrupt government, or worse, of mob rule. Subverting the laws via that same mob rule (such as those who help illegals sneak across) instead of voting to change them is the surest way to destroy a free society, which is why people here illegally raise so much ire in most of America – and should.

“Undocumented migrant” is designed to do one thing – imply that violating immigration laws – and by extension, our immigration laws themselves – are just no big deal. And that attitude is as dangerous as it is absurd.

But Legomsky’s flexible quest for accuracy isn’t limited to muddying legal terms for aliens. Creative language can be employed to vilify an opposing ideology just as easily – and as inaccurately – as it can serve to excuse the lawless.

He refers to “anti-immigration lobbying organizations” when referring to any advocates of a more controlled border – another gross inaccuracy. Even Pat Buchanan (whom I’m not defending) isn’t “anti-immigration.” It’s the illegal immigration that we’re “anti.” To imply that the 80% + of Americans who want tougher border enforcement are against any immigration at all, or are racists, is simply dishonest and insulting.

Immigration law is complex enough without the casebook author deliberately attempting to muddy things by substituting what he thinks should be the law instead of describing what it actually is. Worse, it makes me have to wonder what else Legomsky is spinning or leaving out entirely that's less obvious to me. It's unfortunate that legal academics can't resist such PC madness, and instead stick to the language of the statutes, case law, and common sense.

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