According to the “Pew Hispanic Center” there are currently eleven million illegal immigrants in the USA. This means that there are currently three times the population of Berlin committing the crime of being in a country where they aren’t supposed to be. That is a massive number symbolising a massive problem. In the following comment I will try to name and tackle that problem, a problem which has been in the centre of our lives for years now and a problem which still hasn’t been solved. What is that problem? It is that we still don’t know, after hundreds of years of immigration, how to deal with people who enter countries where they don’t come from. But since the 20th century the question isn’t just an ethical one anymore but also a legal and political one. Now that there are rules stating how to enter a country there are people who break them. So what do we do with these people and what do we do when the rules don’t work? Are these people committing a crime? Are they illegal?
The easy answer would be yes. Whether you like the laws or not, these people are still breaking the laws and therefore it is perfectly alright to refer to them as illegal people. This point of view immediately nulls every ethical or political point of view (or at least seems to). It attempts to, instead, make a case of the technical terms of things. The people who say it is justified to call certain people illegal are trying to make the point that words are words and if they fit they fit.
They would take an example like a baker and would say that we call a baker a baker because that is what they are. Whether the baker likes being called a baker it still doesn’t change the fact that that is the proper word to describe them.
It sounds like a simple and easy to understand argument. The problem is, it’s too easy. If we are going to stick to only the must technical of terms than we must examine those words very carefully and if we do so with the term for example ‘illegal immigrant’ we will find that it isn’t quite as black and white as one might think.
To call a human being illegal is already in and of itself an insult. By calling a person illegal you are denouncing their very existence or at least as a punishable offence. People should not be referred to as illegal since the only thing that can be illegal is a crime. Existing is not a crime. When referring to a human as happy, one expresses that their current state is that of happiness, so logically when referring to someone as illegal, one is expressing that their current state is that of crime. This is simply not possible, even if a person is committing a crime they are still then a criminal, a doer of illegal things, and not a crime itself.
A good example for this is someone who drives down a street without looking out, whether the signs say to go or stop. The person may be fined or even arrested but they are still not referred to as an ‘illegal driver’, because illegal means ‘contrary to or forbidden by law’. The driving is illegal but not the driver. So how come we don’t make this distinction when it comes to the subject of outsiders? This brings me to my next point.
When the word illegal is used to describe another human being it is pure propaganda. It gives the human a feeling of danger and untrustworthiness. The term ‘illegal immigrant’ makes one think that this immigrant has committed a crime on purpose when a lot of the time their only crime is trying to have a better life. Whenever a politician uses the term ‘illegal immigrant’ it is never used in a positive context. One would never imagine hearing a liberal party announcing that ‘illegal immigrants’ must be treated better rather the word ‘irregular’ or just simple ‘immigrant’ is used.
For example when David Cameron announces that Great Britain must deal with ‘illegal immigrants’ more efficiently he is very actively using this term. He knows that the voters will subconsciously content ‘illegal’ with ‘immigrant’. Therefore whenever one hears the word ‘immigrant’, ‘illegal’ always springs to mind.
All in all the correct answer in my opinion to the question ‘Can people be illegal’ is no. Yes, technically people can call other people illegal but just because it’s possible that doesn’t mean it should be done. I hope that one day the term ‘illegal person’ won’t have to be used anymore as this word reflects the view we have of other people, mainly outsiders. Although I can’t think of a fitting word that could replace the meaning of an ‘illegal’ person, I am sure that one can be found or even made up since the word politicians have been using now certainly does not coincide with the idea of universal humanity.
By Oscar Gaitskill, 17, London, UK