“What’s in a name?” Juliet asks her love Romeo in Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Do you think the label “illegal alien” smells as sweet as, say, “non-citizen” or “undocumented immigrant?” Those words are all used to name the very same people, but most of them would say that first label, illegal alien, is the one that stinks.
First off, there’s the difference between “citizen” and “immigrant” both of which are only used about people, and “alien,” which is used to identify anything that doesn’t belong. That difference, many immigrants and their advocates say, makes the word “alien” de-humanizing.
Then, there’s the label “illegal.” Again, immigrants’ advocates say, people are not illegal, only actions, and the action of crossing a border without the proper papers may make you “undocumented” and a “non-citizen,” but it can only be called “illegal” after a court ruling, which can remove the word and its stain by granting an undocumented applicant asylum or permanent or temporary resident status.
In a country founded on the principle that all accused people are innocent until proven guilty, to call someone or their actions “illegal” before a court has ruled is at the very least premature, if not outright wrong.
That’s why the Library of Congress wanted to amend the labels it puts on people from “illegal alien” to “non-citizen” or “undocumented immigrant. If the US Senate affirms a perfect party-line vote in the House that change in language will be, well, illegal.
Asked why they were determined for force the Library to keep using language many find offensive or humiliating, representatives of the 233 Republicans who voted on June 10 to stop the proposed re-wording said they just wanted to keep the category labels as they have traditionally been. Like the song in Fiddler on the Roof, I suppose, “Tradition!!”
175 Democrats voted for the change. Nobody in the House of Representatives crossed party lines.
Real, substantive change in America’s immigration laws, a system both parties always label “broken,” has been stymied by partisan deadlock, and President Obama’s use of Presidential orders to change official policies on deportation has been rejected by a 4-4 tie vote by the Supreme Court. The Justices then sent the deportation issue back to the Texas Courtroom of U.S. District Judge Andrew Hannen. Hannen is the guy who originally stopped Mr Obama’s plan to protect from deportation both children brought to the US illegally but raised here, and their parents and the parents of children who are US citizens or legal residents.
Giving him charge of the case again is roughly equivalent to putting the fate of a Crimean dissident into the hands of Vladimir Putin.
Uriel J. Garcia is a reporter for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper. He covers immigration issues among other assignments.