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No One Is Illegal: Why We’re Signing the I-Word Pledge

YES! Magazine is taking the pledge. We will not refer to people as “illegals.”
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Flag on street, image by Joseph Voves

Photo by Joseph Voves

YES! Magazine is joining ColorLines, The Nation, and others in pledging not to use the term “illegals” to refer to people.

Actually, this isn’t a change for YES!. We have never used a term that suggests some people’s very existence is to be questioned. Whatever your view of immigration policy, all human beings are entitled to respect.

Name calling is a familiar way to dehumanize a group of people. It’s used during wars to make it easier to kill people. It’s used to sharpen political divides. Immigrants, especially, are often targeted as scapegoats during times when jobs are scarce—that strategy serves some interests much better than an honest examination of the structural causes of a stalled economy. This strategy has often worked to keep poor and working people divided.

We do need a rational immigration policy. It might start with rethinking NAFTA and other race-to-the-bottom policies that have dislocated farmers and up-ended livelihoods for people in the Global South. And it might restrain unscrupulous U.S. employers, who have taken the opportunity to drive down costs by hiring people who can’t risk reporting substandard working conditions or forming a union.

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Migration could become even more pressing as climate change makes some areas uninhabitable. We are likely to see an increasing number of climate refugees, including people from within our own borders, like those who were forced to leave their homes on the Gulf Coast following the hurricanes.

There are no easy answers to human dislocation. But one thing is clear: We will have a much degraded society, and we’ll all suffer, if we allow the mean-spirited scapegoating of immigrants to divide us. It may be a small thing, but one way we at YES! Magazine can contribute is to choose language of respect to refer to all people, regardless of the status of their documents.

Thanks to ColorLines for launching this pledge.

Sarah van Gelder wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Sarah is YES! Magazine's co-founder and executive editor.



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