Reasonable people can disagree about the prudence and fairness of the various get-tough state and local laws targeting illegal immigrants, such as the recent law passed in Alabama (I like it, by the way). They can even disagree—though I personally don’t see how—about the wisdom of state-sanctioned incentives for illegals to smuggle their children into the country, like Maryland’s batty “Dream Act.”
What reasonable people should not accept and must not accept is the increasingly routine practice among many news outlets of dropping “illegal” from the phrase “illegal immigration” and “illegal immigrants” when discussing such measures. The practice is no less than a lie, an effort to misrepresent as bigotry legitimate objections to providing the benefits of American citizenship to those who willfully violate U.S. immigration laws and procedures. The papers, reporters, columnists and bloggers who do this inevitably follow the misrepresentation by denigrating anyone who doesn’t think scofflaws should be celebrated as heroes and handed the keys to the country as “nativists.”
I resent it, because my maternal grandparents were immigrants, the legal kind, and I would no more oppose the progress and success of law-abiding immigrants in the country than I would saw off my arm. I condemn it, because the tactic—and it is a tactic— is unethical journalism, an example of intentionally muddying an issue by imprecision so that the apathetic, the lazy or the none-too-bright—a sizable group, that—are confused about what is the real issue.
For today’s example, I give you Tina Brown’s “The Daily Beast,” an increasingly left-biased news commentary website dominated by columns about how awful all Republicans are and how the fact President Obama can’t possibly fail to be re-elected. Here is how the site headlined the new Alabama law:
Second-Class: Alabama Passes Nation’s Harshest Immigration Law
Second Class! As in “the harsh law turns immigrants into second class citizens.” But the law doesn’t have anything to do with citizens, or immigrants who are citizens. It targets individuals illegally here, often using criminally forged documents, to illicitly obtain the benefits due to U.S. citizens.
Damn right illegal immigrants are “second class,” and were before Alabama passed the law. In fact, they aren’t citizens at all, of any class.
Slyly substituting “immigrant” for “illegal immigrant” is cheating, putting a journalistic thumb on the scales of a legitimate policy dispute rather than submit to fair debate. I have come to believe that those who tolerate or defend the practice know that they have a losing argument, and can only prevail through rhetorical deception.