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The Visceral Reaction when “illegal immigrants” are mentioned

September 10th, 2009 · 24 Comments

Yesterday, I was able to watch President Obama’s complete health care speech before Congress. Overall, I think that he hit a home run with this address. He laid out the reasons for why health care reform is needed, how we have so few private options in many states, how unjust it is that people with pre-existing conditions are barred from being able to purchase insurance, and how the current system with its escalating costs is simply unsustainable.

I was even impressed with how the President referred to the cause of Senator Kennedy’s life in describing the letter he received from the late legislator a few days ago where Kennedy reminded him that health care has become the moral issue that will define the principles of social justice and the character of our country. That Senator Kennedy had the foresight to help frame the health care debate in a moral and social justice paradigm in his last days speaks to his command of the issue and desire that no American should be denied care in a country as resourceful as ours.

Like most people, I was dismayed by the outburst of Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) who shouted, “You lie” to President Obama when he explained that the health care effort would not extend coverage to illegal immigrants. This incident reveals to me how low some members of our society and so called leadership are willing to go at the mere mention of illegal immigrants, even when the point they claim to refute is moot. The larger debate about health care isn’t even about undocumented immigrants, but the reaction that they produce is symptomatic of how many in the Latino community have come to view the GOP.

I believe that the level of dialogue and debate in the US about issues like health care, illegal immigration, and even education has diminished to the point of shouting matches, screaming and lie proliferation. And now, Rep. Wilson has become the poster boy for that kind of behavior.

Earlier this week, we heard the protests and efforts of some who did not want school children to listen to President Obama’s address about personal responsibility and education for fears that he was “indoctrinating” young people with a socialist agenda. I actually wonder how many of the people who were protesting this “boot straps” pep talk have actually been to a socialist country or read anything in depth about it to really understand the terms that they fling around. And even for those who disagree with the President’s policy agenda, how can you refine your arguments and refute your points if you are unwilling to even listen?

I recently finished a book by Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation, which describes how digital distractions have dumbed our society down. Reading for leisure has declined, and with the younger generations, the proliferation of myspace, facebook, texting, and other social media have made some people look more inward instead of outward. As this dumbing down has occurred even in light of technological advances that could bring access to educational materials to a larger audience, the public’s ability to process information and engage thoughtfully has diminished. My thought is that the screams of those like Rep. Wilson do not set an example or the tone for a more intelligent conversation and instead play into the fears and anger of those who chose to look inward instead of viewing themselves as members of an increasingly complex, global society. Unfortunately, the mere mention of terms like “illegal immigrants,” “socialism,” or dare we even say “responsibility” produce the kind of reactions in some that are so ugly that more thoughtful dialogue is discouraged.

In terms of the Latino community and how it can affect change and influence the debate, I think that we need to start processing information more through reading and engaging with each other about current events like health care and immigration so that we can distinguish ourselves from the likes of Wilson. We have an opportunity to do better and to elevate our own message during these times.

Photo Credit: Rep. Joe Wilson (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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Tags: Barack Obama · health care · Immigration · Kennedys

24 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Brittancus // Sep 10, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    The only way President Obama has any possibility of passing health care reform, is a commitment to remove illegal immigrants from gaining entrance to any public option? In the health care bill they must–PROVE–to the majority of the American People that–NO ILLEGAL FOREIGN NATIONAL–will be able to bleed the government extension in the package. An amendment to the 1000 page reform bill, must guarantee–IN THE WORDING– that a very thorough background identity check is performed on any applicant who applies? E-Verify would be a progressive identifier, with an initial examination of Social Security number in conjunction with Homeland Security Databases.

    To complete the operation of E-Verification this PC application, must branch out across the country as a permanent tool in business and industry for every worker newly hired or long time employee. Thousands or even millions of illegal workers could be hiding in plain site in the workplace, as they have never been checked as a citizen or legal residency compliance? It also seems that the auditing of 1-9 forms around the country, that the federal authorities forget to mention that irregularities by employers only allows them to dismiss the applicant? The fact is that ICE raids have trailed off, so that any illegal workers–ARE NOT DEPORTED–they can move onto yet another workplace. Anybody who is suspected of being in this sovereign nation illegally should be detained and held for ICE inspection, not released into the public mainstream?

    We all know that Fraudulent ID is so prevalent, that all security systems have been compromised, with even al-Qaeda murderers who brought down three passenger jets. On 9/11 these terrorists had in their possession numerous authentic drivers’ licenses and other picture ID. E-Verify is not perfect and can be cheated, but as it’s modified, collecting more tools to compliment the enforcement program it success rate will become exemplary. Those hired workers who then find themselves under suspicion, can have errors resolved through any Social Security agency. That special interest groups have remained silent about this matter, doesn’t need any explanation? most Americans want enforcement at our borders, the workplace, so contact your reluctant politician at 202-224-3121 MORE HONEST INFORMATION AT NUMBERSUSA & JUDICIAL WATCH. REMEMBER NO MORE BLANKET AMNESTIES!

  • 2 Cockroach People // Sep 10, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    I had a visceral reaction too, but mainly to Barack’s use of the term illegal immigrants. It was unnecessary (he could have used a different term or a different way of saying it). He pissed off a lot of activists. I don’t think we should conflate the immigration debate with the health care debate, but I wish he would have chosen a different way of saying what he meant (he is usually good at that).

    Wilson, Mr. Alipac, is a creep–sorry if I am not engaging the merits of his claims–I’m just telling it like it is.

    The American public is a fickle beast. You never know what it wants to hear. That’s why someone like our President is so impressive–he’s usually right on. There are a lot of really smart, informed Americans that get what is going on with this debate. The problem is that many of them (especially well-meaning liberals) are hanging out at the coffee shop arguing over the merits of the proposals rather than storming the offices of their representatives.

    As for Latinos, yes we should elevate our level of analysis and discussion, though distinguishing ourselves from the likes of Wilson is probably too low of a bar. ;)

  • 3 Best Political Quiz // Sep 10, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Being a latino myself I was a bit offended but knowing Obama he meant nothing bad by it. You are right he is usually spot-on and thinks a lot about what he is going to say.

  • 4 webmaster // Sep 10, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    Cockroach People,

    Part of me had that visceral reaction, but having lived in Washington state, I tend to not automatically associate “illegal immigrants” with Latinos. Actually, “illegal immigrant” could be of any race, and undocumented is the better term. I’m more offended by what the Obama administration does to this class of undocumented people in terms of detention and the continued local policing practices than I am with what he calls them.

  • 5 rjjrdq // Sep 10, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    ? I thought Wilson was talking about the Canadian onslaught.

  • 6 Cockroach People // Sep 11, 2009 at 4:18 am

    Nor do I , as I currently live in Chicago with its large Eastern European population of undocumented immigrants. But I am pretty sure Wilson was thinking about Latinos and not Poles or Canadians as rffrdq quips.

    Funny, I mentioned the same thing at CP with regard to 287 (g) though I don’t cringe at that anymore–it’s a dull and monotonous pain at this point.

  • 7 Reyfeo // Sep 11, 2009 at 5:17 am

    I’m an American Latino and don’t exactly understand what the issue is with saying “Illegal Alien/Immigrant”…if they are not this, then what are they and or what would you prefer we call them, “Undocumented Immigrants”? If so, then by being “undocumented” are they not here illegally?

    Either way, out of the entire speech, this is your biggest beef? What a joke…The POTUS is upon the brink of putting as in so much debt, we may never recover, but as “Latinos”, your more offended by the terms he’s accurately used to describe the people who have sucked California (the US) dry with free ER type healthcare? No wonder, they don’t take us seriously…“oooooohhh what ‘visceral’ language he used, I’m so offended”….LOL!

  • 8 Cockroach People // Sep 11, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Reyfeo,

    There is a regular group of people who let their dogs off the leash at my local park, illegally. Are they illegals?

    American Latino? Is that like Latin American?

  • 9 Reyfeo // Sep 11, 2009 at 9:37 am

    I think I know what point you were trying to make with the dog on a leash thing, but it doesn’t work here ie its like apples and oranges. But to answer your question: they are breaking rules, if in that park the rule is not to let your dog off the leash…that said, “immigrants” who break the law, are law breakers and hence are here “illegally”. We can’t say that about the park/dog thing because it doesn’t make sense. They are most likely Americans who simply break the law…if that law was severe enough, they’d go to jail and or be deported if they are here “illegally”. Either way, you can say “undocumented” all you want, the fact of the matter is they have broken the law and by default puts them here “illegally”. It’s too bad the terminology upsets so many, we might get down to solving this problem.

    As for American Latino: I use this frequently because in many polls/conversations, “Latino” alone references all people in the US whether a Citizen or not…actually gets me that I get wrapped up like I’m some foreigner every time you say “Latino” when I’m actually born and raised here–hence the American Latino to ensure everyone knows, I’m an American first, “Latino” by culture, second.

  • 10 Cockroach People // Sep 11, 2009 at 10:40 am

    “But to answer your question: they are breaking rules, if in that park the rule is not to let your dog off the leash…that said, “immigrants” who break the law, are law breakers and hence are here ‘illegally’.”

    It’s a law they break, not a mere rule (though laws are rules). By breaking the law and remaining in the park, then by your logic they are illegal or there illegally as well. Thanks, I just wanted to know if I could start calling them illegal park goers–I will.

    “[it] gets me that I get wrapped up like I’m some foreigner every time you say “Latino” when I’m actually born and raised here”

    I am Native American with clear tribal roots. Are you? If not, then you are foreigner no matter what you choose to believe. But thanks for sharing some of the basis for your identity issues.

    What is Latino culture anyway? Hispano-Roman?

  • 11 Reyfeo // Sep 11, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Correct call them what you will…I don’t care what anyone calls them. I wouldn’t call them “illegal park goers” since it doesn’t make sense; in the case of immigrants who come here and over stay and or illegally cross the border, yes, they are here illegally and is an appropriate association of the English language to this subject—hence my (and the POTUS) use of “illegal immigrants”. You don’t have to like the term, I’ll agree there, but you also can’t censure the rest of us who see it that way. To me undocumented immigrant says they are not breaking the law, when they really are. Hence the use of “illegal immigrants”. You’ve heard my view, I’m curious to know why the left gets so wound up with the use of “illegal immigrants”..Seriously, I would like for you to expound on this.

    And as for being native…your implying you have more rights to being in this country then I do (or some us?), am I reading this wrong? Bottom line, what your native relatives and or mine, whether they did and or did not have tribal roots, is irrelevant…I’m an American, I am not better than you and you are no better than me…if in your mind, we are all foreigners because we lack tribal roots, then anyone who reads this will clearly see the identity crisis is within you…is this why we can’t have a good dialogue about this issue?

  • 12 awareness // Sep 11, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    I agree with Reyfeo. When we focus on a semantic issue (We don’t like the term “illegal alien”), at the expense of the much more important issue of having our POTUS, and more significantly his handlers, rapidly turning this country into a Communist state, makes us “Latinos” look rather silly.

    Obama is no more our “friend” than Bush was. Bush oversaw the looting of our Country through deregulation, and Obama is going to accelerate that through “over”-regualtion, aka Government Takeover, ala Government Motors (GM) and now they want to mange our health care! I ask, how has the Government ever helped the Latino community residing in the US, in a stabilizing, productive, sustained manner? Why would you think they are going to start now?

  • 13 Jaango // Sep 11, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    I much prefer the use of Chicano, since I am both a Yaqui and an Apache. Thus, three languages prior to acquiring English.

    From the standpoint of law, “illegal” is the criminal designation. “undocumented” is civil, and subsequently, if you walk across the Sonoran Desert and arrive into the geographical boundaries of the United States, the designation is “undocumented”.

    As to Obama’s speech, he subtley and with considerable nuance, described the Center-Left as the Morality Crowd and went on to describe the Center-Right as the WingNut Crowd, and as evidenced by Wilson’s incomprehensible and incorrect code talk. To wit, Obama expanded the Center and done without ever having to define himself as a Neo-Liberal and identical to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

    And in closing, I am beset by 19 extremist groups here in Arizona, while in New Mexico, one extremist group is operating and in Utah there are four. Needless say but I will, our Sheriff of the Pink Skivvies, is both a bigot and a racist, but he is still in denial as is his Reichista Cabal.

    Jaango

  • 14 Cockroach People // Sep 11, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Reyfeo,

    I bet you come from immigrant stock, hence your intense desire to dissassociate your self from other foreigners. There’s nothing unique about that.

    “I’m curious to know why the left gets so wound up with the use of “illegal immigrants”..Seriously, I would like for you to expound on this.”

    As I am not a leftist, you’ll need to ask them yourself. I still would like to know why wingnuts insist on using “illegal” to describe immigrants who enter the country illegally and not to describe everyone else that breaks the law. Your armchair attempt at linguistics is not convincing. Perhaps you could expound on that.

    You can’t ask for civil dialog when you know full well you are using terms that offend a lot of people. You might as well start using the N word on a African-American site and then whine about how no one wants to have a good dialog with you. Grow up.

  • 15 Reyfeo // Sep 11, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Actually I prefer rough stock (lol), but immigrant stock is indeed in my blood and so I really have no problem identifying with them.

    “You might as well start using the N word on a African-American site and then whine about how no one wants to have a good dialog with you.” is a bad correlation on your part…the word “wetback” or “mojado” might be more in lines with the N word, but “illegal”?? C’mon, give us all a break, surely an academic as literate as you could have done better…don’t matter, based on your rebuttal, I think its you who probably needs to go back to high school. LOL! Thanks for the education.

  • 16 HispanicPundit // Sep 11, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    I believe that the level of dialogue and debate in the US about issues like health care, illegal immigration, and even education has diminished to the point of shouting matches, screaming and lie proliferation. And now, Rep. Wilson has become the poster boy for that kind of behavior.

    Did you turn off your TV during the Iraq war debates? What is going on now PALES in comparison to the level of dialogue about the Iraq war.

    Oh, and I always find it interesting how liberals always find it so easy to see those they disagree with as stupid and ignorant but they themselves are so enlightened. It just flows right out the mouth, doesn’t it?

  • 17 Cockroach People // Sep 12, 2009 at 5:18 am

    “C’mon, give us all a break, surely an academic as literate as you could have done better”

    Glad I’m not an academic, otherwise I might have been offended!

  • 18 Cockroach People // Sep 12, 2009 at 5:36 am

    Reyfeo,

    “is a bad correlation on your part…the word “wetback” or “mojado” might be more in lines with the N word”

    Actually, you missed my point. It’s about the preferences of one’s audience and the expectation of “good dialog” not about objective, linguistic equivalence in your mind. BTW, the word ‘analogy’ not ‘correlation’ would have been “in lines [sic]” with what you were trying to say. It’s never too late to learn English.

    For the record, I dialog with a lot of intelligent conservatives who disagree with me. But they usually do not insist upon using terms that are offensive to me in order to describe people I care about. I’m flaming you because your motives are obvious.

  • 19 Reyfeo // Sep 12, 2009 at 8:49 am

    …”I dialog with a lot of intelligent conservatives who disagree with me.” BLA, bla, bla! You must have your own blog somewhere on the web to that helps you live with yourself…Well, you keep talking to those plastic dolls all you want! I’m sure they’ll tell you “illegal aliens” is good un-insulting English.
    ….And thanks for the Education in English, my 3rd grade teacher and I thank you–we all REALLY learned something here today ‘:-) LOL!

  • 20 El Cholo // Sep 12, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Hey Cockroach People: You’re wasting valuable words engaging with this small-minded, unenlightened, coconut imbecile. You should ask this man’s opinion on the PATRIOT ACT. And read his ignorance.

  • 21 WhatThe.. // Sep 14, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    I’ve got it, How about “Citizen Challenged Individuals”, does that make everybody happy?

  • 22 Michaelr // Sep 15, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Looks like Reyfeo took this dialogue into the gutter. Well…what do you expect?

  • 23 Reyfeo // Sep 17, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    I don’t believe I took this conversation to the gutter…it’s funny how you pop into this conversations at the end and pretend you have something good to say.

    Fact is even among all Latino (US Citizens that is) ¨illegal” is perfectly fine…still no one here can tell me why it doesn´t work? AND, its obvious the word hurts your feelings for people who aren´t even American Citizens–why on earth do you care, they are not talking about you, unless you are here “illegally”?

  • 24 manny s // Sep 19, 2009 at 7:08 am

    ‘why on earth do you care, they are not talking about you, unless you are here illegally’… I care because it is a slur, it is used to describe all Latinos in the SW, you can try to separate yourself by referring to yourself as something ‘other than ‘but in the eyes of people that are blinded by this current debate your still an illegal or come from illegals and therefore illegitimate. We can not turn our backs on those that are like our forefathers because when they disrespect an undocumented person they disrespect all of us. When they use terms like that it is meant to make them less than human and in the process easy to attack. Your doing it now you are making the argument that we should call them illegals after all they are here illegally but its is only in this account that we refer to a set of people as illegal, never to jay walkers or speeders or the Irish in the past they were just the Irish. Do the hard thing and stand up and defend those who need defending. If you’re latino then your forefathers went through this and would have thanked God to have a friend who stood by them.

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