An article in the New York Times (9/4/15, “Iowans Question GOP Talk on Illegal Immigration“) quotes Chuck Coghill, who runs a sign company in the rural town of Blue Grass with his wife, Michelle: “It’s a bad thing that all these illegal Mexicans are here.” He paused. “But they’re hard workers. They’re doing jobs that lazy Americans won’t do.”
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that, I’d have enough to up the minimum wage for all these workers to $15 an hour.
Is it really that Americans won’t work? Perhaps. But with the wages we pay in the fields (and back rooms) these days, can we say it’s laziness or sheer refusal to work as peons? Many immigrants don’t have a choice, and that’s what’s driving this influx of workers willing to give their lives for low wages.
And what about the NYT refusing to do away with the term “illegal immigrant” in their texts? This title is their choice, not a quote from Iowans. I believe what the American Friends Service Committee says, “There’s no such thing as an illegal human being.”
As illustrated by the refugee crisis in Europe, we must start seeing people as human first, not as a status or a job. The heartbreaking photos of the 3 year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, who washed up on a Greek shore, remind us of this bitter truth. Come on, NYT, give up the judgmental language. These are people not an immigration status. Policies are something we must address, but don’t start by calling people illegal before you know their stories. After all, many of them are likely refugees, too. What’s the difference between fleeing gun violence and hunger in Latin America and Syria? Do they have to die like Aylan before they become people?
“But they’re hard workers.” We don’t welcome them, but we sure do like their work. We like to vilify and belittle them, but we sure like what they do for us. As long as they don’t have faces and names, we like the results. Keep them coming, but don’t let them be people.