You Can’t See the Issue for the Semantics

Photo Courtesy of | Hillary Clinton recently vowed to discontinue the use of the term “illegal immigrant.”

Photo Courtesy of | Hillary Clinton recently vowed to discontinue the use of the term “illegal immigrant.”

Emily Kowalik ‘18
Assistant Copy Editor

As if engaged in an endless game of Twister, Hillary Clinton continues to bend herself backwards in an attempt to please every potential voter. Rolling back the clock to 2003, in an interview on WABC’s “John Gambling Show,” Clinton said, “I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants.”  This parallels the statement she made during her recent campaign stop in New Hampshire, where she told attendees that she voted numerous times as a senator to “build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in.”

However, only one day after her stop in New Hampshire, Clinton turned the tables on her previous statements, describing “the idea of tracking down and deporting 11 million people” as “absurd, inhumane and un-American” and chastised Donald Trump for being behind a “deportation force.”

After being slammed with negative feedback regarding her statement in New Hampshire, she claimed, “That was a poor choice of words ….I’ve talked about undocumented immigrants hundreds of times and fought for years for comprehensive immigration reform.”

Most recently, Clinton has vowed to drop the term “illegal immigrant” from her vocabulary, to which I say: cleverly played, Clinton. Is it possible to find a less substantial and even more superficial form of appeasement and placation to the millions of undocumented immigrants? Given your policy of doing the least you can do, if I donated a kidney after yours had failed, would you write me a thank-you note or give me a Starbucks gift certificate?

You might counter that eradicating the term “illegal immigrant” could help usher in positive, respectful debates on immigration and ending racial profiling.

I’d respond by saying that’s nonsense. Granted – the term “illegal immigrant” is, of course, dehumanizing; no human being is or should be considered “illegal.” The negative connotations of the word are obvious, and the term would be best unused. But are Americans such toddlers that if we no longer see or hear a phrase, we’ll believe discrimination no longer exists? Do issues evaporate and tensions fade with the employment of euphemisms? Or will politicians just get more creative with their vocabulary in referencing the country’s immigrant population? Will they instead use the terms “anchor baby,” as Jeb Bush did at an August rally or “rapists,” as Donald Trump did in his June campaign announcement speech?

I’m not saying “illegal immigrant” is a superficial reference. The demeaning term comes from a prejudicial viewpoint, and forcing a change mid-game doesn’t change the rules or the outcome. But, an attempt to modify the degree of taboo associated with this reference is mere semantics, and mere semantics aren’t the catalyst to bringing about profound social change in a society rife with prejudiced mindsets.

This game will likely remain the same indefinitely; Clinton will continue her act of juggling her lexicon as others develop euphemisms to fit the viewpoint of their voter demographics – at least until it becomes true that you can’t have your voters and eat them, too.

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