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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Language barrier

What’s new in semantics April 21, 2021 at 3:42 a.m.

"The decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes."

--George Orwell, circa 1946

"It's no fun being an illegal alien."

--really awful Genesis song, circa 1983

It wasn't that long ago when some high muckety-mucks in the news business tried to ban the term "Islamic terrorist" from American newspapers. Thankfully, there isn't a government agency (in this country) that tells the news business what terms it can and cannot use. The closest American papers get to uniform style is the Associated Press, but even the AP can't keep this page from Capitalizing what We Want. And writing sentence fragments. And calling people "Mr." and "Mrs." on second reference.

There have been efforts before to change the political language in this country, thus political thought. Remember a few years ago when protesters chided others for using the phrase "illegal immigration," on the grounds that no person can be illegal? Tell that to the hundreds of thousands in American prisons.

Enter the Joe Biden administration. Mr. Biden's people have told government agencies to stop using the terms "alien," "illegal alien" and "assimilation" when referring to aliens, illegal aliens and assimilation. It's the latest effort by the Biden White House to turn this president into the anti-Trump, no matter common sense.

The Washington Post reports that memos were sent out earlier this week. "Alien" will now be "noncitizen or migrant" and "illegal" will be "undocumented."

The new word for "assimilation" will be "integration." Apparently the new wording will build a more humane immigration system for the government. As if repeatedly telling the world that the southern border is open, which encourages desperate people in desperate situations to send their kids northward and to perhaps have a human trafficker drop them over a border fence, will somehow be mitigated by changing the words in government memos.

For the record, note well, and you-could-look-it-up, this column has been pro-immigrant since memory runneth not to the contrary. But pro-legal immigrant. Those rushing across the border are breaking this nation's laws. And are thus illegal. Some of us will continue calling them what they are.

"As the nation's premier law enforcement agency, we set a tone and example for our country and partners across the world," Troy Miller, the top official at Customs and Border Protection, said in his memo. "We enforce our nation's laws while also maintaining the dignity of every individual with whom we interact. The words we use matter and will serve to further confer that dignity to those in our custody."

Words do matter. So do facts. A person who crosses the American border illegally is illegal. And an alien. Which is to say, an illegal alien.

What euphemism is the good administration underling going to advise his people to use when picking up a drug dealer? "Distributor of medicament"? You wouldn't want to hurt a thug's feelings. (You can't use the word "thug" anymore, either.)

And what is the administration going to do with all those laws on the books that law enforcement officials must obey? Cops, prosecutors and apparatchiks in the administration must refer to all kinds of federal laws while doing business, and federal law is blistered all over with the term "illegal alien."

As a matter of fact, Title 8 of the Code of Laws of the United States is titled "Aliens and Nationality." Oh, the horror! And there are pages and pages of descriptions of what is an illegal alien, and what is not. (We don't recommend Title 8 for reading fun. It's kind of dry, and the plot fades.)

By the way, what's wrong with a perfectly good word like "assimilation"? School kids learn that the word helps understand the Great Melting Pot. We suppose "Schoolhouse Rock" is next on the cancel list, for having a cartoon suggesting such a thing. When did "assimilation" become a target for the PC police?

The nation is facing a crisis at the border, and the president hasn't helped things in his recent words and actions. The border must be secure, as is every nation's right, practiced by nearly every other country in the world. Illegal immigrants already here and contributing to society, especially those brought here as children, should be put on a path to citizenship. Once they stand in line with everybody else. Those serving, or who have already served, in uniform should be naturalized almost automatically. And then the nation should implement a sound strategy that allows workers to flow toward the jobs just as water flows downhill--but requires them to return home to apply for citizenship, and follow the rules like everybody else.

The late, great Charles Krauthammer once said this country's immigration laws should be like the NFL draft, in which America holds the first million or so draft picks. We should choose who comes, and when, and how.

But changing "illegal alien" to some government euphemism isn't going to do any of that. It only weakens the language. And thought. How does that solve the crisis at the border?

Or are we allowed to use the word "crisis"?

Print Headline: Language barrier

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