The Lawrence Journal World reported last week that Kansas state Rep. Virgil Peck said "it might be a good idea to control illegal immigration the way the feral hog population has been controlled--with hunters shooting from helicopters." The suggestion for such violence was made ("in jest," Peck insists) during a state House Appropriations Committee discussion on controlling Kansas' feral swine problem.
It's no wonder that Peck felt at ease making such a vile statement in such a public forum. He was after all, not talking about human beings, but about "illegal immigrants." Until we get rid of criminalizing slurs, we leave an opening for the hate, violence and dehumanization that comes along with their use. The i-word has become so normalized that even while some reporters (and their editors) condemned Peck's statements, and perhaps had every intention of calling for civility and respect, they used the same "illegal immigrant" phrase that made Peck's comparison of pigs and people seem okay in the first place.
The Kansas House leadership also missed the opportunity to actually condemn violence against immigrants. Media Matters quotes the leadership's statement:
"We agree that the remark was inappropriate. We have visited and counseled with Representative Peck about the matter and have accepted his sincere apology for the inappropriate remark, which, although made in jest, was not thereby made any less offensive," the statement read. "His acknowledgment of his error, his apology to the public and his House colleagues and his pledge to be more vigilant and respectful in his discourse is appreciated and accepted."
Peck went far beyond "inappropriate" and he didn't sound like he was joking to us. The tone and substance of the House leadership statement is not acceptable. Media Matters has the audio of Peck's statement, which is not so much a rant as is something he's casually stating.
Somos Republicanos had this to say:
In a time of extreme tension and occasional violence over illegal immigration, such as the slaughter of a Mexican-American family in Arizona including a nine-year old girl, allegedly by Minutemen, elected officials should refrain from the use of violent metaphors. Such violent metaphors can push some unstable people 'over the edge.' Right now we are dealing with increased hate crimes, and Peck's behavior in essence advocates for more.
While not everyone will agree about immigration policy, it seems that more are in agreement that the lives of immigrants should not be devalued. Words matter. People engaged in public discourse at all levels need to hear from us until they recognize that the i-words are gateways to dehumanizing immigrants through policy and acts of violence, too. Sign the pledge to Drop the I-Word and spread the word to everyone you know.