OPINION

Victory Against The 'I" Word, Another Step To Real Immigration

LOS ANGELES - MAY 1:  Demonstrators march to City Hall in one of several May Day marches and rallies in southern California and in at least 75 cities nationwide to press for immigrant and labor rights May 1, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. The protest is expected to be smaller than the May 1, 2006 march that drew more than 650,000 protesters, the largest turnout in Los Angeles history when large numbers of illegal immigrants carrying the flags of both the U.S. and their countries of origin sparked an anti-immigrant rights backlash among conservatives. Some of the anger that motivated protesters in 2006 was reportedly lessened as Congress failed to pass legislation that would have criminalized illegal immigrants and toughened U.S.-Mexico border enforcement.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES - MAY 1: Demonstrators march to City Hall in one of several May Day marches and rallies in southern California and in at least 75 cities nationwide to press for immigrant and labor rights May 1, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. The protest is expected to be smaller than the May 1, 2006 march that drew more than 650,000 protesters, the largest turnout in Los Angeles history when large numbers of illegal immigrants carrying the flags of both the U.S. and their countries of origin sparked an anti-immigrant rights backlash among conservatives. Some of the anger that motivated protesters in 2006 was reportedly lessened as Congress failed to pass legislation that would have criminalized illegal immigrants and toughened U.S.-Mexico border enforcement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)  (2007 Getty Images)

The decision by The Associated Press to drop the offensive phrase "illegal immigrant" to describe immigrants who are in the United States without legal status marks a new moment in the struggle for immigrant rights. 

Coming on the heels of the 180-degree turn on immigration of the Republican Party, the campaign to “Drop the I-Word” marks another high point in the crescendo of an increasingly mature immigrant rights movement.

we see this victory against the I-Word and the institutional forces that sustained it as another step to real immigration reform and a more humane treatment of immigrants.

- Arturo Carmona, Executive director of Presente.org

The Drop the I-Word effort, which was launched and led by the Applied Research Center (ARC) in 2010, involved many groups working tirelessly for many years in many places across the country. This same multi-sectoral, multi-dimensional approach previews and helps pave the way for what we hope and expect will be the 800-pound gorilla of immigrant rights: real immigration reform.

We should not and cannot underestimate the role of language in shaping our political losses and victories. Dehumanizing language is a precursor to dehumanizing policy and the psychological and physical violence that enables it. Viewed from this vantage point, we see this victory against the I-Word and the institutional forces that sustained it as another step to real immigration reform and a more humane treatment of immigrants.

My organization, Presente.org, is proud to have engaged thousands of its members and to have played an active role in support of the national "Drop the I-Word" campaign led by ARC. Most importantly, we should also recognize that this victory would not have been possible without the immigrants and non-immigrants who challenged their friends, families and acquaintances about their daily use of “illegal immigrant.” 

The history of language change tells us that these kinds of daily challenges are stuff that immigrant dreams are made of.

While we should be celebrating, there remains much work to do, beginning with the other major journalistic arbiter of the American language, The New York Times. Though no formal announcement has been made, we are encouraged by the signals sent by The Times that it too may soon follow suit and drop the I-Word."

Arturo Carmona is Executive Director of Presente.org.

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