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C'mon in, but we don't want you

Last week, I stopped by a biker rally in the Quad Cities. I'm not a biker, but it's an interesting scene.

I scanned a table full of motorcycle bumper stickers. Many of them were funny. But some of those featuring Confederate flags got serious. One of them read, "If you don't speak English, get the [expletive] out."

A couple of days later, an agriculture professor from Indiana told me that many dairies in the Midwest are hiring Hispanics – in many cases, citizens of Mexico and other Latin American countries.

The bumper sticker and the immigrant-hiring dairies illustrated the contradictory message our American society sends to immigrants: C'mon in, but we don't want you here.

A few months ago, The Associated Press announced it would no longer use the term "illegal immigrants." Its stylebook suggests newspapers refer to such immigrants as those who "enter a country illegally" or "without legal permission."

The AP, to its credit, has long refrained from using "illegal aliens" or "illegals."

When I worked for a newspaper near the Mexican border in the 1990s, I often used the word "illegals" in stories about the numbers of Border Patrol apprehensions. That was considered acceptable where I worked, but such a term is derogatory. I was wrong to use it.

Some people, especially those who love Confederate flags (a topic for another day), may dismiss all this talk as pandering to the evil of political correctness. But whether we admit it or not, everyone practices political correctness to some degree. In most of our dealings, we choose words that don't offend others.

But when it comes to those who cross our borders illegally, we don't often extend that courtesy. Do we call chronic speeders "illegal drivers"? If we did, I would easily fall into that category. Do we refer to companies that pollute as "illegal companies"?

And if some people like the term "illegal immigrants" so much, why don't they call the businesses who hire such immigrants "illegal employers"?

The Associated Press, instead, says we shouldn't brand people and institutions as illegal. That sounds fair to me. How do you feel about it?

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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