…Progressives can’t win an argument about “illegal immigration.” But the fact is they shouldn’t try. It’s a PR distraction that has served conservatives (and occasionally liberals) well. What Progressives can take exception to—and should—are immoral impediments to the pursuits of human dignity—the basic human dignities of providing food, shelter, education, healthcare and opportunities for one’s self and one’s family. A lopsided debate over “illegal immigration” that only targets one demographic and barely half the problem is an “immoral impediment.” Refusal to take up legislation that creates an economic disincentive for hiring (and, for practical purposes, enslaving) undocumented workers is an “immoral impediment.” This constant round and round about the evils of amnesty, as if we haven’t all been recipients of it (none of us have some grand “legal” right to be here, except we got together and wrote a law saying we could be), without taking the time to critique the reasons for our objections to amnesty, is nothing more than an “immoral impediment.” And we shouldn’t act like this is too hard a concept to grasp. If the First Nations people on Plymouth’s shores had left our predecessors adrift, as beneficiaries of the good fortune those refugees found here, we would consider that a definite “immoral impediment” to our current lives, liberties and pursuits of happiness.
While it is highly unlikely that a mere shift in language would accomplish the deep shift in conversation that needs to take place in order to do justly, love equity, walk honesty, it is a necessary start. Jesus made a very similarly politically consequential linguistic shift when he said, “‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…. [For] if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?”
Not everybody gets it, but if we take off the table meaningless language of “illegal immigration” that obscures the fact that we are a nation of illegal immigrants by someone else’s perspective, a generation from now there will be few for whom that name even resonates.