Activist: Language matters in immigration debate

Promise Arizona Director Petra Falcon hopes inflammatory language can be avoided in the Congressional debate over immigration reform. ( Photo by Doug Ramsey

Promise Arizona Director Petra Falcon hopes inflammatory language can be avoided in the Congressional debate over immigration reform. (Photo by Doug Ramsey)

Don’t call immigrants ‘illegals,’ GOP urges members

Doug Ramsey

Public News Service

PHOENIX — The latest Republican effort to attract Latino voters came in the form of a recent email to U.S. House Republicans, urging them to avoid referring to immigrants as “illegals” or “aliens” in the ongoing debate over immigration reform. An Arizona activist responded by saying immigrants have always been treated as somehow less than human. 

Promise Arizona director Petra Falcon said she is encouraged when Republican leaders avoid inflammatory words and instead describe undocumented immigrants as being “part of the fabric of our country.”

“Hopefully, this is a movement to change all that language,” she said, “because this is in effect bullying. We’re bullying people because they don’t look like everybody else, or they don’t look white. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to look like as Americans now, because we are an integrated country.”

The email was sent by the Hispanic Leadership Network, a Republican political action committee devoted to bringing more Latino voters to the GOP. The memo advised against describing the Senate immigration reform framework as “amnesty,” and warned lawmakers to never use the term “anchor baby” or speak of an “electric fence” when discussing border security.

Hurtful name-calling and ridicule of Latinos, especially in Arizona, has been going on for generations, Falcon said.

“I grew up in an era when Latinos were made fun of because of their accents. They were made fun of for what they were eating: tortillas and beans. Today, it just makes people feel inhuman.”

It’s useful to remember that language has been used to belittle immigrants throughout U.S. history, Falcon noted, and she pointed out that Latinos are only the latest targets.

“Whether you’re Latino or African-American or Asian or Italian or Irish, we know that all of those constituencies have always been accused of being “illegal,” she said, “or they’ve had names attached to them.”

Arizona Sen. John McCain has said the new Republican willingness to push for immigration reform is the direct result of the November election, when President Obama received 71 percent of the Latino vote.

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