Sunday, December 2, 2007


By the time I'm done writing this I expect I'll know what I think. I know what I think about illegal immigration. Can't blame the illegals. Who doesn't want to get ahead? If you were unemployed in the chicken-crowded unpaved streets of some Latin American country, you'd turn your eyes northward as well, and your feet. Especially since there are hardly any laws that are enforced, way up there. Laws that you're likely to break, that is. You just want to work, send money back home, take care of your family. You're a good person. You don't mind being a nominal criminal, if it will help your family, and no identifiable person gets hurt. A victimless crime. That's an idea that's been around long enough for us to not question it too closely.

So when Dennis Kucinich said a few weeks ago -- I should say, when he upbraided Wolf Blitzer for using the word "illegal" to describe, uh, the, er, people who are here illegally -- well he got an ovation. "I take issue with your description of people being illegal immigrants. There aren't any illegal human beings; that's number one. Number two, they're undocumented."

It really is rather an adolescent comment. He's pretending that words have only one meaning, the way teenagers want to play gotcha by repeating back the literal meaning of some comment you made. Do I need to explicate it? I doubt it. But let's, just for the fun of it. Words have a flavor, and these are so delicious.

Kucinich takes issue with the term illegal immigrants because there aren't any illegal humans. An informal logical fallacy, the formal name of which is the fallacy of ambiguity. He's shifting the meaning of illegal from referring to a status to referring to a state of existence. In Modus Ponens form, Mr. Kucinich would have it: If human, then legal -- more specifically, If human, then not illegal immigrant. Kucinich has made it: If human, then not illegal human. Well? It's really quite primitive, for all that the logical format seems to complicate it. View it as a clarification.

Kucinich pounces like a fat tabby on our sad neglect to complete the phrase with sufficient diligence. Rather than "illegals," we always have to say "illegal immigrants according to the current if unenforced statutes of the United States of America, a country as of the 21st Century A.D. in the Northern and Western Hemispheres of the planet Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, The Three-and-a-Half Dimension Universe."

Kucinich abnegates the concept of borders, and therefore of nationality. And he wants to be president. Kucinich of course is an irrelevancy in terms of serious politics. Yet he has a voice and a platform and a position of significant authority.

The word game he wants to play is switching the term "illegal" with "undocumented". Here's why it matters. Uh, Number One, they are not undocumented. They have documents. Fraudulent, forged, stolen, but documents. It's called identity theft, and it gets real Americans in trouble with the IRS. We used to call undocumented babies bastards, or illegitimate. We used to call unlicensed couples whores and pimps. I'm right about that, right? Anyway, you need documents to drive, and you need documents to live in the United States. Legally, I mean. You actually can drive without documents. We don't call such drivers "undocumented."

Number Two, regardless of their humanity, they are illegals. It's not a status we have imposed on them. It's a status they chose for themselves. Even living in the shadows, as some are pleased to characterize it, their circumstances are better than those they voluntarily left behind. Even if they weren't, the circumstances are self-selected. Sympathy? None. Compassion? How does the term even apply?

So what have I decided I think? About the term "illegals"? Does it matter whether we call them illegals or undocumented or something harsher or something even more euphemistic? Do words matter? I still don't know. But I do know that truth matters, and accuracy matters.

Can you give it a name? Scofflaw? Lawless? No matter how ingenious the wordplay, an accurate description of this behavior is likely to have some negative prefix: il-, un-, mis-, anti-. It's a pig's ear, however fine the embroidery. We don't want to be rude. Mostly we don't. But I can think of a greater rudeness. Can you?


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