Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Illegal Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr.?

Nuremberg Laws for Aryans/Germans and Jews, 1935

Since Monday, the New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has been hosting a discussion forum inviting comments about the Times style that uses "illegal immigrant."

My two cents:
Thanks for this forum.

I think you should stick with "illegal immigrant," as long as your use of the "illegal" prefix is truly neutral and fair, meaning that you apply it across the board.

To wit, a neutral Times usage would refer persistently to the "illegal Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr." who has been held in contempt of Congress since June; and Times readers will hear about the deeds of the "illegal police" under indictment in East Haven, CT for violating the civil rights of residents in their community; or what about the "illegal police" of New York City, whose cases are being tossed by Bronx prosecutors who are fed up with pretextual arrests?

If you do not take this route, then please use "resident" or "immigrant" and let the story characterize the law-breaking at issue, as you do for other stories.

The problem with the adjective "illegal" affixed to someone who lives here is that it is just not accurate. Just as when Holder violates a Congressional order once, we do not think that he is per se an illegal Attorney General, when people violate immigration laws, it is also a discrete violation or violations.

The accurate description is that these are U.S. residents who broke an immigration law or laws. This usage also correctly highlights the parallels between these strange status laws and those that forced the massive removal of Jews and others deemed unlawful residents in Nazi Germany prior to 1938.
 Yes, yes, it's not cool to compare the deportations of U.S. residents with the Nazi status laws for Jews, but that's just because people are undereducated about Nazi Germany's citizenship policies in the period between 1933 and 1938.  (Relying on Raul Hilberg's classic study, The Destruction of the European Jews, I review these similarities in States Without Nations: Citizenship for Mortals, in case you'd like to read more on this.)

 To clarify, in the comment, I should have emphasized the similarities in the laws revoking legal rights for noncitizens that led to internal ghettoization and an emigration requirement as one possible legal result of a mixed marriage, as opposed to the specific deportation laws, which were not initiated in full force and de jure in Germany until 1938, though early on Jews of East European origin had been decreed present without legal authority and could be deported.  (There was a word count cap and I ran up against the limit.)

 Especially important in the similarities are the ancestry and marriage rules for defining "pure" Aryans as citizens; these are used to deprive non-citizen Jews of legal protections and rights in a manner that anticipates many of the policies affecting nonAryan U.S. residents today, including people who were born here and are U.S. citizens.
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