Blocking illegal migrants - and rhetoric

Coded language pervades this week's Senate debate about illegal migrants. It's designed to cover up the fact that self-interested groups prefer half-a-million people entering the US unlawfully each year while keeping the 11-plus million illegals already here.

The House has passed a bill that deals with curbing such massive lawbreaking. The bill has flaws, but its focus on better enforcement of immigration laws is needed to show foremost that the US can control its borders, especially in a post-9/11 world.

On Monday, however, the Senate Judiciary Committee responded by approving a bill that would only help increase this flow by creating a path to citizenship for illegal migrants. It would reward those who break the very laws written to welcome legal immigrants.

As the full Senate takes up this debate, supporters of that bill are using loaded words and phrases that are worth parsing:

Legalization: This is meant to describe giving someone legal status in the US after they enter it illegally. Often this is done under law by courts for refugees fleeing persecution. But to legalize illegal migrants because they are already here is to simply make the unlawful lawful. Better to call this bill what it is: amnesty (even if it does put up tough requirements to achieving citizenship).

Undocumented immigrants: This phrase is designed to avoid implying guilt for those who enter the US illegally but haven't been convicted of the crime. It's similar to describing speeding drivers as "undocumented speeders" or taxpayers who cheat the government as "undocumented tax cheats." Yes, in a courtroom, there should be a presumption of innocence. But in writing laws and setting policy, let's characterize this group for who they are: illegal immigrants.

Anti-immigrant: Even smart journalists fall for this phrase when describing those who want to end illegal immigration. Of course, the US is a nation of immigrants, and needs a steady flow. But a nation without borders is not a nation, and its immigration quotas are meaningless. An anti-illegal-immigrant stance is not an anti-immigrant one.

Jobs that Americans won't take: American workers or legal immigrants do work in industries that now mostly attract illegal migrants - they even dominate in most cases. A general rise in immigration quotas and enforcing minimum-wage laws would help curb a desire to hire illegal workers.

Guest workers: The committee bill would set up a program to allow immigrants to work for up to six years, and either apply for citizenship or return home. One intent is to stem the illegal flow, with the number of "guests" set at 400,000 a year. Last year, more than 400,000 illegals made it to the US. Assuming illegals will continue to enter, plus guest workers on top of that, why not call this the "higher immigration" bill?

Comprehensive bill: Those pushing amnesty claim any bill must deal with both enforcement and illegals already here. But both amnesty and a promise of enforcement were offered in 1986. The amnesty attracted even more illegals while enforcement has faltered badly. A comprehensive law would first deal with enforcement, both at the border and against employers who hire illegals.

Accurate terms, not bogus rhetoric, should impel this debate.

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