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Can a person be illegal?

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By Bertie Nesirky

Labels are dehumanising people caught in a migration crisis

Uncertainty is the media’s friend. A crisis sells and the profit driven media is keen to capitalise on this. Likewise, fringe and radical political movements are aware that in crisis people turn to those who offer an alternative.

These two forces, for profit and votes, have led led to an artificially inflated projection of the immigration crisis.

The press is dehumanising immigrants in the name of profit, hoping to create public fear of an impending social crisis. Crisis sells, money talks. Alternative political movements have seen themselves rise on the crest of the media driven immigration crisis and motivated to perpetuate the sense of crisis.

In the absence of hard fact on the immigration crisis, rhetoric has become a powerful sales tool for the media. Now, there is a growing gap between public perception and fact.

It is our responsibility as members of a democratic society to understand the motives of the press, profit, and the motives of those whom hold political power. We must understand what the underlying message is when a politician like Mike Pence calls a group of people ‘Illegal Aliens’.

He is painting an “Us” and “Them” picture. It is dehumanising and it is terrifying. Right wing parties are creating a safe space for demeaning labels with racist undertones against immigrants. This term and by extension its connotation, has now been adopted by the mainstream media.

“Illegals”, “Illegal Aliens”, “Illegal Immigrants”. Using these terms helps to perpetuate this dehumanisation and reinforces the view that these individuals do not deserve our assistance.

Dehumanising a person allows us to distance ourselves and to comfortably declare that “They” are not entitled to the rights and privileges that “We” enjoy. “We” deserve access to healthcare, a vote, the support of the state and safety; “They” don’t belong here and should stop exploiting “Our” county.

The “Us” and “Them” is a construct of radical politics and the media. It must be seen through in order to evaluate the ‘crisis’ appropriately.

Psychologists and history warns dehumanisation can foster acts of immoral abuse; in the 1800’s Irish immigrants in Britain were dehumanised by their “snout” label. Which suggested the Irish had a protruding jaw, similar to primitive humans. In Nazi Germany, dehumanising labels helped foster approval of the party’s atrocities. Slavery was made morally digestible to society by viewing people of colour as a primitive sub-race.

We too will be judged in history. It is time to truly empathise with those seeking refuge. To imagine what the label “illegal” feels like. How the depth and breadth of your experiences could be reduced to a derogatory, factually incorrect word.

Factually incorrect, because no person is illegal. It is the act, crossing a border without authority, not the person, which is illegal.

It is the role of the state to extinguish the fire which has been lit by the media and fanned by radical politics. Without controlling the media, the state must advocate for factually accurate terminology. Refugees are coming, it is in our interest to greet them with positive public attitudes for their presence. If they feel welcome and they prosper, we will all feel the benefit.