The words we use are important. Not so important, however, that we should spend all of our time discussing tone and word choice while ignoring content--but important enough that we should address it straight out of the gate.
Perhaps you have seen people use the word "illegals" when it comes to undocumented immigrants. Perhaps you have used this word yourself, or know many people who do. For me, this word is unacceptable, and has been used strategically to dehumanize wide swaths of the human population. Instead, I use the term undocumented immigrants (my friend Jessica is fond of "economic migrant" herself). For the duration of lent, this is the word choice I will be using.
Why? First off, the Christian response demands injecting a humanizing element into the conversation about immigration in America. Illegals is both derogatory and has been used to expand anti-immigrant propaganda that is as old as time. As this video shows, Hitler himself used this tactic to change the popular opinion of Jews in Germany. Do you really want to use the same terms and tactics that Nazi Germany did?
Or how this article from CNN states that when we call someone an illegal immigrant, we are assigning everything about their existence to be illegal, which we do with no other population (making it, effectively, a racial slur). "In this country, there is still a presumption of innocence that requires a jury to convict someone of a crime. If you don't pay your taxes, are you an illegal? What if you get a speeding ticket? A murder conviction? No. You're still not an illegal. "
Now is the time to listen to Elie Weisel, who made the point that no person can be illegal (even if their actions can be).
Action step for the weekend (and beyond): gently and firmly confront any and all usage of the word "illegal/illegals" to describe people who have been made in the image of God.
(Yes, this includes Facebook!). Share the above resources (plus any others you have) and let us all work together to change our collective language to one that reflects a Christian perspective. I know it won't be easy, especially if we have to get involved in conflict with people who we love. But this is of the utmost importance--confronting the first steps of dehumanization in order to save the dignity (and life!) of so many of our neighbors.
Or, to take it a step farther, wear your beliefs on your heart (or chest).
Or, why not get creative with this phrase? Go out and make a little guerilla art, construct your own stickers, write it on post-it notes, teach it to your children . . . let's get this phrase out and circulating in the wide world. For we know that every single person is made in the image of Christ, and we know that the world thrives on oppressing others in order to elevate some. So let's work hard during this incredibly difficult season to shine a spotlight on the imago dei of our undocumented brothers and sisters.
Thank you for reading along, and I will see you on Monday with more resources to share.