It is evident that the words we choose to describe people influence the ways in which people respond or view an issue. By labeling someone an “illegal immigrant,” you are calling the person “illegal.”
However, a human being cannot be illegal. His or her actions can be deemed illegal.
This distinction while small is incredibly important. Trump’s campaign, administration, and now presidency have legitimized generalizations about immigrants coming to America. And rather than facilitating the path to citizenship and create better immigration policies to help fix the so-called “immigration problem” that Trump has been anything but silent on, President Trump has continuously stereotyped a huge and vital population of the United States of America.
Trump’s claims that Mexican immigrants specifically are bringing in crime is not backed by any real evidence. In fact, as Michelle Ye Hee Lee points out in an article from The Washington Post, “A range of studies show there is no evidence immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans. In fact, first-generation immigrants are predisposed to lower crime rates than native-born Americans.”
Trump’s hateful rhetoric has created an ideology that because a person of a certain ethnicity, religion, or nationality has done something bad, that person represents the entire ethnic group, religion, or country. Trump supporters and other Republicans fail to see the irony in this behavior, though. When the alt-right, neo-Nazis, and members of the KKK come out and openly support Trump, there is no mention or indication by politicians or pundits that these groups and individuals represent all Trump supporters or Trump’s beliefs. The question remains, why are generalizations about immigrants and refugees regularly made?
This issue is connected to a much deeper problem within American society. The KKK was never viewed in history classrooms as a terrorist group. We were always taught and told that acts of terror committed by white people were isolated incidents. While the actions of these hate groups have been condemned as society has progressed, these people have never been viewed as “other.” Because despite their hateful beliefs and actions, these people looked “American.”
These generalizations will continue to spread so long as a population of the United States believe that immigrants are not a part of the fabric of America. Even though our country was colonized by immigrants who took the land away from people already living here, the perpetuation of words like “illegal” continue to enforce the idea that immigrants are “criminal” or “bad.” Until we realize that human beings cannot, themselves, be “illegal,” society will continue to spread stereotypes and fear.