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Why not "illegals"?

7 reasons why calling people "illegals" is wrong
If you call someone "an illegal alien", you use hate speech
Hate speech or rhetoric of hatred is a generalized definition of speech that expresses negative attitude of "opponents" – representatives of other religious, racial, cultural or more specific subcultural groups. This phenomenon can be a demonstration of racism, xenophobia, interethnic hostility or cultural intolerance, homophobia or sexism.
But what words can we use? How should one talk and write about foreigners in a proper and humane way? How can one challenge stereotypes which equate migrants with criminals?

Human rights advocates from Human Constanta explain why you can't call migrants people "illegals" in 7 short paragraphs.
1. Misnomer
As a rule, by words "illegals" or "illegal migrants" people mean someone who crossed the border in an undesignated area, forged documents, didn't extend the registration period or infringed entry regulations or rules of stay in the country in any other way. But in order to claim this, guilt or "illegality" of people's actions must be proved. Indeed, there is the benefit of the doubt, and a journalist is not a judge.

It is correct to write that a person has violated border crossing procedures or committed a certain administrative offence (stating the offence itself), if it is a proved fact.
For example, quite a humane wording on Minsk Directorate of Internal Affairs website: The Directorate of Internal Affairs conducted a raid aimed at detecting foreign citizens who are staying in the capital illegally.
This is what the news looks like on tut.by: The round-up of illegal immigrants was organized at Zhdanovichi and Zahodni market.
2. Criminalization, generalization and dehumanization
"Illegal" means "unlawful", acting against the law. If you use this word, you claim that a person acted and violated the law intentionally. Thus, you criminalize an individual and a whole group, dehumanize them and label as criminals. A person can't be illegal, only his or her actions can be illegal. A migrant can't be illegal, he or she can cross the border illegally. We don't call journalists "illegal", do we?
In this regard, it is interesting to look at the website of the Border Committee. On the one hand, lots of people are called "illegal":
1. A group of illegals from Sri Lanka was arrested during an international operation. They were being smuggled in a road-train trailer to EU-countries.

2. Special forces unit of the State Border Service arrested a group of illegals from Iraq on the Belarus-Lithuania border.
1. A group of illegals from Sri Lanka was arrested during an international operation. They were being smuggled in a road-train trailer to EU-countries.

2. Special forces unit of the State Border Service arrested a group of illegals from Iraq on the Belarus-Lithuania border.
On the other hand, they can write properly:
Belarussian border guards prevented foreigners from getting to the EU illegally
Belarussian border guards prevented foreigners from getting to the EU illegally
3. Not every illegal activity really carries a threat for the society
Very often the state provides statistics that a certain percent of violations are committed by foreign citizens. But is it really that much? And what offences are these? Someone exceeded the time limit of stay in the country without the registration, someone didn't register at the registration office or didn't manage to extend the document. Does it make a person illegal? Even if he or she really violated the rules of stay, this is an administrative offence, which doesn't make a person a criminal and let alone an "illegal".
4. Difficult procedures
Another issue is that the state makes up difficult administrative regulations which are difficult to understand. In order to get the refugee status, one has to go through dozens of bureaucratic circles of hell that last for a very long time (up to a year, considering all appeals). It is hard to register even for tourists, as we were told by a Brazilian cycle-traveler who came to register and spoke English, but nobody understood her. The rules exist but there is no one who could explain them to people for whom the rules were written. Officers of the Department of Citizenship and Migration are rarely ready to go deep into details of an individual story, so people do not manage to do everything legally, but others put labels on them.
5. Here and now
The majority of foreigners participate in some legal procedures in any country. For example, they are trying to get a refugee status, or expecting a decision on getting a residence permit or a citizenship. It doesn't make them "illegal". If a migrant doesn't have documents, this may mean that a person didn't have a chance to turn to authorities or register. It takes time.
6. The right to seek asylum
Sometimes people come to a border crossing point without documents and in fact, break the law. But if these people ask for asylum by virtue of "a well-founded fear of being persecuted…", they exercise their right to it. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international documents establish the right to seek asylum, and these documents oblige countries to accept asylum seekers and consider their applications. If a person tries to cross the border without documents to ask for protection, he or she is not an illegal, but an asylum seeker.
7. Formation of the public attitude
The term "an illegal" has negative and even racist connotations, because it is used to describe not all people who did something illegal, but foreign citizens only. If you hear "illegal", it is always followed by "migrant". Have you ever called a person who got a speeding fine "an illegal"? We don't call journalists "illegal", do we?

The word "illegal" deprives a person from individuality, reinforces discriminatory stereotypes. Those who hear these words get irritated or become indifferent: "Why on earth are there "illegals" in my country?" Or "Who cares about "illegals"?"

The word "illegal" lets people completely ignore the state of those running from death, torture, ill-treatment, neglect violent cases of deportation to places dangerous for living, and not think about those who run to survive.
This is how you shouldn't write:

How to write and say correctly?

Depending on the context, one can use various definitions. First of all, one should understand whether mentioning a person's citizenship has any added value. In the same way, there is no need in mentioning the nationality of a person in a crime report. If it is necessary, depending on a status, you can write the following:

A refugee or an asylum seeker, if a person had or applied for the refugee status;

A foreigner or a foreign citizen;

An undocumented migrant. Try to use this expression, if you have to mention a person's documental status, but this information is rarely necessary;

A person who is suspected of violation of migration legislation or commission of an administrative offence – this is the most correct and humane definition.
Words have meanings. Words have contexts and consequences, they affect history, they are full of meaning both for those who say them and those who hear them. Words direct thoughts and actions and can trigger or suppress emotions. Sure, to write a short "an illegal" instead of a long word phrase seems logical. This is about our inclination for short messages.

To save space in the title and symbols in Twitter. And a context-deprived "an illegal" sounds like an absolutely precise, almost all-in-one description, doesn't it?

The mass media and representatives of public authorities should keep in mind the stereotypes and prejudices they are forming by neglecting terms in relation to foreign citizens. Asylum seekers are already in a vulnerable position. Making negative images and provoking hostile prejudices, we worsen the situation they may be in.

The usage of dehumanizing speech makes it easier for people to justify discriminatory attitude to a vulnerable group. Words are indeed important.

© Human Constanta. 2018
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