Disturbing Headlines and Mixed Messages

UT Austin BelltowerThree disturbing headlines with matching mixed messages articles came across my Twitter feed this morning. My faith hackles were raised, which admittedly doesn’t take much when it comes to social issues.

Headline #1: University of Texas Students Cancel ‘Catch an Illegal Immigrant Game’.

“Thank God,” was my response after I said a few other unrepeatable things. Thankfully, only my kitty, Takuma, was present for my mini-tirade. I am forever amazed at some humanity’s short-sighted and offensive thoughtlessness.

The University of Texas at Austin chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas planned the event posting on their Facebook page: “Any UT student who catches one of these ‘illegal immigrants’ and brings them back to our table will receive a $25 gift card. The purpose of this event is to spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration, and how it affects our everyday lives.”

If the Young Conservatives of Texas wanted a meaningful discussion, then have a clear, respectful discussion. A “game” is not a campus-wide discussion. Mixed messages are never clear or respectful.

Immigration is part of the founding fabric of this country. History is clear about how immigrants behaved in their guest country displacing, oppressing, and stealing from its indigenous peoples. The initial immigrants were all “illegal”. They showed up, conquered, and imposed. It’s been a matter of control and power ever since. Was this “game” designed to be a thoughtful, long overdue discussion about immigration reform or merely reinforce attitudes of control and power hidden in the mixed message?

Using ‘illegal immigrant’, or ‘undocumented immigrant’ for that matter, further muddles the immigration reform matter. Using terms like “illegal”and “undocumented” are dehumanizing. They also are not accurate. It is true that an immigrant is one who comes to live permanently in a foreign country. However, our political discussion around immigration has also become one of legal status. Maybe a clearer, less presumptive approach might be to change the word altogether. A migrant, on the other hand, is someone who merely moves across national borders. It doesn’t make any presumption about the legal status of people. If a true discussion is wanted, then it’s important for all sides to be both appropriate and non-judgmental.

Texas state law does not allow enrollment of students who do not have legal immigration status. The everyday lives of students at UT, Austin are not impacted by a population who are already excluded from their student body.

Rarely, if ever, are labels helpful. People do not wear “Illegal Immigrant” labels in real life, just as they don’t wear “student” or “homeless” or “abuser” labels. People do not “wear” labels and we send mixed messages when we employ labels. Labels are assigned by the user, and labels are most often inaccurate and restrictive. None of us like to be labelled and we certainly do not want to be profiled, coerced, or turned in for a gift card because a label. (I can’t help but think of free man Solomon Northup’s narrative in Twelve Years a Slave).

I wonder: could the gift card that was to be offered as the reward for capturing an illegal immigrant be for Walmart? If so, nice segue to my second headline: Walmart asks its workers to donate Thanksgiving food … to Walmart workers. I’ll leave that to next time (smile).

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