April 19, 2013

Letter: Event posters use offensive rhetoric

Political Union event title disrespects undocumented immigrants.

Recently, UChicago Coalition for Immigrant Rights (UCCIR) and many other members of the larger campus community became aware of a poster advertising an event hosted by the University of Chicago Political Union. The poster read, “Resolved: States Should Defend Themselves Against Illegal Immigrants.”

While we understand that the group’s intention was to ignite interest in the topic and not to harm or offend anyone, it is necessary to address why the poster was offensive in order to educate and to prevent future incidents like this.

The statement succeeded in its primary goal of being provocative and getting attention for the event.  But we believe the statement could have just as effectively accomplished this goal without being anti-immigrant. It is not the state that needs to defend itself against immigrants, but rather immigrants that have needed to defend themselves against xenophobic attacks, both in rhetoric and in the form of raids that break up families and have resulted in record numbers of deportations in recent years.

The most problematic part of the poster was the usage of the term “illegal immigrants.” Just last week, the Associated Press changed the rules in its stylebook to state that “illegal” can only be used to refer to an action, not a person. There can be illegal immigration, but there cannot be illegal immigrants.

The usage of the term “illegal immigrants” is dehumanizing and criminalizes all undocumented immigrants. It unfairly labels people who may be out of status due to a variety of circumstances, such as those who have left their country to escape natural disasters or those who have been on a backlog for years waiting to obtain papers. Being undocumented does not make you less of a person, and “illegal” should not be used to describe immigrants without legal status. We also wish to make it clear that such language can work to further alienate this vulnerable population.

The effects and consequences of language are real.  As a university campus, we must be aware of our language and the populations it affects.

As part of a community that includes undocumented immigrants, we would hope that students be more thoughtful about the rhetoric they use because we want to make it clear that this is a safe and welcoming place for people of all walks of life. UCCIR supports the Political Union’s mission in sponsoring open and engaging dialogue on this important and pressing topic. However, we would like to make it clear that we, as an organization, will not accept the kind of offensive rhetoric that was employed in marketing this event.

—Eric Chien, Cynthia De La Rosa, and Lynda Lopez