Drop the “I” Word

Student activists, ASUCI representatives, and a UC Irvine alumnus gathered to urge their fellow anteaters to oppose the use of the word “illegal” as part of a nationwide campaign designed to remodel the way Americans deal with the issue of undocumented immigrants.

Kimberly Van | Staff

Kimberly Van | Staff

On Wednesday, Jan. 15, representatives from ASUCI, and present and former UCI students, gathered in addition with almost 100 bystanders at the Student Center Terrace to show their support for the “Drop the I Word” Campaign presented by Dreams at UCI, a student group advocating for the rights of immigrant students within the UC system and spreading issues related to immigration.

As part of the event, multiple presenters spoke out against the use of the term “illegal immigrant” and the reasons for their opposition. One of the themes of each presentation was the idea that immigrants are humans and deserve to be treated with the same standards that American citizens are treated.

“The reality is that we have moved very far away from our humanity, where our feeling of moral materialism in where we’ve been indoctrinated to look down on those who do not have a piece of paper,” Andrea Gaspar, a fifth-year international studies major and former ASUCI executive vice president, said. Gaspar is one of many UCI students who support the “Drop the I Word” campaign.

The campaign is a nationwide effort with the goal of eliminating the term illegal immigrant from the national discourse. The campaign began in 2010 with the passing of Arizona’s anti-immigrant laws SB 1070 which were described at the time as being the strictest immigration laws in the country. As a result of the backlash against the laws, many organizers across the country began to pressure their fellow citizens to stop using terms they found to be offensive when describing undocumented immigrants. The presentation by Dreams at UCI is part of the same effort.

One of the presenters, a UCI alumnus named Abraham Medina, commented on his work in Arizona with an immigrant rights group. Medina, a graduate from the class of 2011, is the son of undocumented immigrants and grew up in Southern California. He learned from an early age that his lack of citizenship meant he and others like him were at a disadvantage, and that his parents and others like his would be in a state of constant danger.

“All these parents that come and have children that might be or might not be undocumented, it’s a daily stress, a daily fear. [They are] sacrificing every day for their children’s better future but knowing that any moment that ICE can knock at your door as a part of community support, that 287G agreements and ICE contracts are having these people be incarcerated indefinitely for not having committed a crime in ICE detention centers,” Medina said. “So what we are seeing is all across and all over the nation is a violation of our human rights as people.”

Later he commented that “we are fighting for our human dignity” to explain why he and many others oppose the apprehension of immigrants and their families in the country.

In 2012 the Department of Homeland Security reportedly removed 419,384 immigrants and foreign nationals from the United States, compared to 388,409 in 2011 and 383,031 in 2010. Of these, the majority were from Mexico or other Latin American countries. Medina and the other presenters believe there is a reason for that.

“Well one look at Latin America during the Cold War shows why the United States actually plays a huge role in a lot of people that come here,” David Hollingsworth, an At-Large Representative on ASUCI’s Legislative Council, said. Citing the example of the CIA’s involvement in overthrowing the Guatemalan government in 1954 that ultimately led to the Guatemalan civil war, he argued that America’s propagation of wars and coups to prevent pro-Socialist governments and movements from taking hold in Latin America impoverished many countries and thereby made them economically weak and corrupt. This led many people to leave their countries for the United States.

Hollingsworth also authored legislation for the Legislative Council (Resolution R49-47) that officially condemned the use of the term illegal immigrant. The legislation was approved unanimously, revealing the importance of words when describing people.

“Words can hurt, and words hurt because they are not simply words, words are a vehicle through which ways of thinking travel. The word illegal represents a way of thinking that dehumanizes and dismisses between 11 and 13 and maybe as many as 20 million people who live and work and raise families amongst us. The word illegal represents a way of thinking that argues that those who enter the country without papers broke the law and therefore have no rights,” Anita Casavantes Bradford, assistant professor of Chicano and Latino studies and the current UC Dreams faculty advisor, said.

Bradford believes that using the word illegal both degrades the standing of immigrants and “simplifies the issue” instead of solving it. As she later said, “We need to move beyond the word illegal and move beyond name-calling in order to have the courage to ask other and more useful questions.”