Fighting a language war

first_img “People wake up and discover half the kids in their children’s class don’t speak English, and most of the resources are going to address that problem. People start to feel like strangers in their own country.” Those enraged by the problem say illegal immigrants are effectively invading the nation and taking jobs away from Americans. Those on the other side say illegal immigrants are living in the shadows and doing jobs Americans won’t do. Illegal immigrants’ advocates say those here improperly should pay a penalty, but eventually be allowed some legal status. They accuse opponents of wanting to round up illegal immigrants for mass deportations. Opponents say giving legal status to those who came illegally amount to that most provoking buzzword of all: “amnesty.” George Lakoff, a Democratic political consultant and linguist at the University of California at Berkeley, said anti-immigration groups so far appear to be winning the language war, and the word “amnesty” is their most powerful rhetorical weapon. “`Amnesty’ assumes that there’s been a serious crime. I mean, you don’t have amnesty for shoplifters,” Lakoff said. “It’s seen as an attack on the country.” Steven Camarota, research director of the Center for Immigration Studies, agreed that the word “amnesty” stings. But he said that’s because it’s accurate. “Those who would like to legalize people here don’t want to remind folks that, in effect, we’re not going to enforce the law, that we’re going to seemingly reward lawbreaking. “Why don’t the advocates of illegal immigration use ‘amnesty’? Because the polls tell them people hate it,” Camarota said. But supporters of what they call “earned legalization,” “earned transition” and “earned adjustment” counter that they don’t use the term “amnesty” because it isn’t precise. “We’re not really talking about an amnesty. We’re talking about providing some legitimacy,” Feinstein said. “What people are now saying is … no matter what its provisions are, they want to attack it as an amnesty,” said Rep. Howard Berman, D-Van Nuys. “It’s to their short-term advantage, but the cost of them doing that is getting any meaningful and comprehensive solution,” said Berman, whose own plan for illegal agricultural workers involves making them pay penalties and then allowing them to gain legal status. Meanwhile, advocates for undocumented immigrants stand behind their own charged buzzwords, like “round up” and “mass deportations” for what opponents want to do to undocumented workers. “If you say you want to get rid of anybody that came here illegally, how do you do it besides mass deportations?” Berman said. But Camarota called it “very harsh imagery of little children being dragged out of school.” “I don’t know anyone who is advocating mass deportations,” added Mehlman. “It’s a very clear public-relations strategy that they’re employing.” Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, called the illegal immigration fight “a debate that has become increasingly dominated by hotheads.” Still, he said he is confident that amped-up rhetoric will ultimately give way to a middle-ground policy on illegal immigration. “At the end of the day, people are going to be less interested in the words and more interested in whether we’re going to have a solution for the 11 million people who are here illegally,” Sharry said. “At the end of the day, people won’t care what it’s called.” Lisa Friedman, (202) [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals While every political fight has its public buzzwords, few have had a lexicon so brimming with anger and pathos as the current debate over illegal immigration. And as a protracted battle looms in Washington over how to deal with the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants – with proposals ranging from beefed-up border security to guest-worker programs – those looking for a solution say they fear the loaded language is obscuring the real issues and making it hard to find any middle ground. “The language is a big impediment to any solution,” said Feinstein, whose plan involves allowing longtime illegal farmworkers who agree to stay in the agricultural sector three additional years to seek legal status and eventually apply for green cards. Experts say the language in this particular debate is becoming increasingly anger-filled because it veils a deep national divide in beliefs over who deserves to be in the United States, and, ultimately, who we are as Americans. “It’s this sense that people are losing control over their own lives,” said Ira Mehlman, Los Angeles-based spokesman for the Federation for Immigration Reform. WASHINGTON – California Sen. Dianne Feinstein stood outside her office one recent afternoon explaining her plan for granting legal status to some illegal farmworkers. She turned to leave, then beckoned back a departing reporter. “Please don’t use the word ‘amnesty,”‘ Feinstein said. “It’s not an ‘amnesty.’ It’s an ‘earned transition.”‘ Across the Capitol that day, during a testy immigration hearing, Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy asked Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff how “mass deportations” of illegal immigrants would impact the country. “The bills don’t call for ‘mass deportations,”‘ grumbled Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. last_img