When I’m at a restaurant, I order a Coke rather than a cola, if I have a runny nose I request a Kleenex rather than a tissue, and when I need to check my e-mail at 2 in the morning, I use my Blackberry rather than my mobile PDA. Companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars promoting their trademarks so that ideally, their brands will become synonymous with or even replace how people commonly refer to the product that bears the name.
Think of the two words most commonly used in the immigration debate recently, those that conjure up the strongest emotions. I would bet those words would be “illegals” and “amnesty”.
Could other words be used to describe those who are unauthorized to be in the US? Of course… if referring to the class as a whole, the term “undocumented aliens” was a valiant effort on the part of pro-immigrationists to minimize the negative a connotation of the label. But now even the mainstream newspapers carry headlines such as “Illegals to be Given Driver’s Licenses”. It hardly seems fair to paint young children who had no choice and entered the US unlawfully with their parents with the same brush as convicted felons or gang members who also happen to be undocumented.
Amnesty is defined as “the act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.” The Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) bill that was proposed by the Senate and failed to pass earlier this year mainly because opponents successfuly argued that it amounted to amnesty. However, CIR was more accurately referred to as “earned legalization” where undocumented aliens would have had to: learn English, pay back taxes, pay a hefty fine and been free of serious criminal convictions among other criteria.
The DREAM Act which would have granted legal status to children and young adults who arrived in the US before the age of 16 and who had lived in the USA at least five years if they completed two years of post-secondary education or two years of military service also went nowhere as anti-immigrationists successfully derailed the effort by labeling it amnesty. Even though most reasonable people would agree that children should not be punished for the actions of their parents.
The terms “illegal” and “amnesty” (especially when used in the same sentence) add fuel to a fire that’s already red-hot and needs to be extinguished before this country can move forward with meaningful dialog and work towards a solution to fix our broken immigration system. However these terms are not going anywhere. Those who support CIR will need to redouble their efforts in 2009 and work on both the substance of what such a CIR bill should contain and on branding their message.