Why We Don’t Say ‘Illegals’

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Exodus 20:16

 
Imagine: You are walking in a parking lot on a hot, summer day. You notice a baby in distress inside a locked car. There are no other adults around, including the child’s parents.

What do you do? Without question: You break into the car to save the baby.

Would it be fair if people called you a “criminal” for “breaking into a car”? No, that would be woefully unfair. You are saving a baby’s life, not criminalizing a car—even though, in a very limited, technical sense, someone could rightfully point that out you did indeed break into a car without permission.

However, we all know that it would be misleading to be labelled as a “criminal carjacker” for the rest of your life for this effort to save the life of a baby. It would be far more likely that people would refer to you as a “hero” and describe your actions as “saving a baby’s life.” People would mention breaking into the car only in passing to describe how it happened. They would not use that action to label who you are.

In much the same way, undocumented immigrants should not be called “illegals” nor should asylum seekers be said to be “sneaking in.” These terms paint a misleading picture—no doubt to discredit and reduce sympathy for these people. However, spreading a misleading testimony about others is a violation of one of the 10 Commandments.

Technically speaking, an asylum seeker can legally enter the U.S. without papers and then apply for asylum. Some may indeed enter on their own (i.e. “sneak in”) while they are in the process of requesting asylum. However, it would be a false witness to label them as “sneaking in.” It would be far more accurate to describe them—and their actions—as “seeking asylum.” That is the more fair and honest witness of our neighbors’ actions. While they are in the long process of seeking asylum, one of their actions may be to “sneak in” but it would be misleading to take that one minor instance to label the whole person.

To say that some asylum seekers are “sneaking in” is to exploit a technicality and build a caricature of the person based off that. It is a lie, even if it is based on some degree of truth. After all, it is quite possible to spread a false testimony using only factually true statements to do so!

Furthermore, the asylum seekers in the migrant caravan are not an “invasion” nor are they a “threat”—even the U.S. military has confirmed this, so anyone continuing to use those terms has no justification for doing so and is simply violating God’s commandment at this point.

Most undocumented immigrants are not “criminals.” They are good people who have made a difficult decision to escape violence and poverty and to provide for their families. They have proven this by being good neighbors to us all these years living here in the states. It would be breaking one of God’s commandments to refer to them as “illegals,” because that is a false testimony of who they are—it would be more accurate to say they are good people who made a tough decision to provide for their families, and in doing so, some committed a legal misdemeanor.

Just like the person who broke into the car to save the baby in the opening example, it would be far more truthful to refer to most undocumented immigrants are “heroes” rather than as “illegals.”

My neighbors set off illegal fireworks all summer. Should I refer to them as “illegals”? Or are they just “folks having a good time”? Both are technically true, but which is the more honest witness? Given what the fireworks did to the sleep habits of my toddler, I don’t have much sympathy for them. At least the undocumented immigrants did what they did in an attempt to provide for their families. All my neighbors are doing is just being inconsiderate of others.

How we label people perhaps says more about who we are more than it may say about the people we are attempting to describe. Perhaps we should just drop all these labels, as all of them dehumanize the people we are talking about by reducing these dignified, beautiful, complex human beings into some narrow category.

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