Friday, January 11, 2008

"No woman is illegal"

While campaigning in Nevada Friday, the next state in the caucus process for Democrats, Sen. Hillary Clinton declared "no woman" was an illegal immigrant.

Mrs. Clinton was shaking hands and meeting people one-on-one in a Las Vegas neighborhood when she made the comment.

During a conversation with one woman who spoke broken English, a man shouted from an opening in a nearby wall that his wife was illegal.

"No woman is illegal," Mrs. Clinton answered back to cheers, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper.

Leaving aside the gender question - one person who heard it said he thought she said "No ONE is illegal" - this statement (which is going to be very attacked, I'm sure) drew me up short, because I never thought of it before, and she's right.

I don't know if she even intended to do so - she may have just been blathering, after all - but she actually made a very valid and profound point, one that had never occurred to me before: People aren't illegal. Actions are illegal. It's impossible for people to be illegal. People aren't crimes.

Of course, we call undocumented immigrants "illegal" all the time. But the fact that we unthinkingly call people "illegal" is an example of how we accept a false anti-immigration frame that is placed around the immigration issue, and like all frames, it affects how we think about it.

So when those immigrants took to the streets and protested a couple of years ago, a common sentiment was "They have some nerve protesting. They're illegal." Which almost sounds like it makes sense.

But if those same people were to say, more accurately, "They have some nerve protesting. They did something that was illegal" - well, the sentiment suddenly makes almost NO sense.

Hillary was right: man or woman, no person is illegal. What they DO may be illegal. THEY aren't. And that isn't just semantics. As is often the case with language, the words you use affect how you think.


Anonymous said...

why did she feel the need to distinguish between men and women here? s

Iggy said...

That one was kind of silly; but she was asked specifically about a woman, so I think you can read too much into it.