Illinois House Representative Bobby Rush is using the goodwill gained from his legendary political career to try to bring civility to the often-rancorous national conversations about immigration and, more specifically, using the i-word to discuss the statuses – and the lives – of undocumented immigrants.
To that end, Congressman Rush is proposing House Resolution 155, which reads, in part:
> Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That–
> (1) Members of the House of Representatives no longer use the term ‘Illegal Immigrant’ because no human being is illegal;
> (2) human beings need to be central in immigration discussions in order to move toward a more civilized and humane tone in public discourse and policies on immigration; and
> (3) foreign nationals, undocumented immigrant, unauthorized immigrant, immigrant without papers and immigrant seeking status are examples of terms we can use that do not dehumanize people. We can all stop unintentionally fueling racial profiling and violence directed toward immigrants, when we drop the word ‘illegal’ when discussing a human being.
In an exclusive email interview, DTIW asked Representative Rush what prompted him to create HR 155 and his hopes for forwarding the national discourse by dropping the slur.
DTIW: What prompted you to create this resolution?
For some time now we have begun to accept the rampant misuse of the term “illegal” when referring to people seeking to make America their home.
I felt enough was enough and as an elected official. I, along with my colleagues, should set an example of civility and compassion for all human beings.
America is and has always been a country of immigrants (80% of this country was founded by immigrants), so it is unacceptable to just now start referring to the status of immigrants as “illegal.”
I grew up in a time where people of color were given numerous labels and called horrific names. I have worked though my youth into the present to fight against all of those negative labels. Because of this, I cannot stand aside while other groups are marginalized by the labels placed on them by others, so I will join with them to prevent such atrocities from continuing.
What has been the reaction so far to it, from your colleagues and from your constituents?
Five of my colleagues have decided to join the effort; all Democrats so far, but we are reaching out to our Republican colleagues in order to gain bipartisan support for this important initiative. Constituents and constituent groups have expressed enthusiasm about the resolutions’ introduction.
This is an issue that lies at the heart of how we view the humanity of the Other. Language is the vehicle for affirming or distorting the humanity of marginalized or oppressed groups. Frantz Fanon eloquently addressed it in his classic works Black Skin, White Mask and Wretched of the Earth.
What do you hope will be the effect of this resolution?
I hope that is will inspire a civil and humane debate as the House begins to consider comprehensive immigration reform.
This resolution expresses the need for members of Congress to use terms such as “undocumented” and “undocumented workers” in describing foreign nationals and immigrants, rather than offensive references like “illegals,” “illegal aliens,” or “illegal immigrants.” By standing together against the use of these latter terms, publicly elected representatives can avoid unproductive debates and discussions, which are extremely offensive to those who have not been born in the U.S.
The United States of America is home to nearly 40 million immigrants, which is more people than makes up the total population of California. Nearly 16% of the U.S. labor force is foreign-born and, as of 2010, nearly one-fifth of all Fortune 500 companies had at least one founder who was an immigrant. Clearly, foreign nationals and immigrants have made significant contributions and sacrifices that add measurably to America’s prosperity and the sustenance of our way-of-life.
How will it be enforced it, especially with the media?
This is a non-binding resolution and contains no “enforcement” provisions.
We are asking members of Congress to come together and choose the high road during House debates on comprehensive immigration reform and to bring attention to the accurate type of language that should be used moving forward. I will work to communicate with media through my press shop that how we as Americans must alter the way talk about individuals seeking citizenship and work visas to the US. Media is a powerful tool and can be of great assistance in spreading the word on the right type of language to use when referring to undocumented immigrants.
Has the Gang of Eight reached out to you about the resolution? If so, how? If not, have they given a reason why they haven’t and/or won’t?
No, we have not heard from the Gang of Eight on H. Res 155, but we welcome their support and hope to have them onboard with the resolution.
What does this resolution mean in forging cross-racial/cross-ethnic solidarity? Is, say, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and/or other congress people of color supporting the resolution?
We are all in this together. Our issues and concerns are not based on race because the issue of immigration is not about race. Immigration includes multiple racial groups and has the support of diverse group of congressional members.
How do you want those of us outside of the congressional walls to support HR 155?
Please contact your representatives and senators and ask that they support H.Res 155, and join the effort to engage in a civil debate as we consider comprehensive immigration reform.