[lg policy] No, we’re not “weaponizing” immigration language

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon Feb 5 10:30:41 EST 2018

No, we’re not “weaponizing” immigration language

Jazz ShawPosted at 7:01 pm on February 3, 2018
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As we prepare for the debate over a possible DACA bill, Leo R. Chavez takes
to the pages of the L.A. Times
this week, not to complain about any of the specific policy initiatives
under discussion, but about “the language” we’re using to talk about
immigration. Apparently we’re *weaponizing the languag*e to make immigrants
look bad… or something. It’s a strange line of attack to choose,
particularly when it’s been liberals and progressives who have raised the
practice of distorting words for their own purposes to an art form.

See Also: Trump: “Little Adam Schiff … must be stopped”

There are clearly plenty of words and phrases to choose from in this
debate, and honestly, I was a bit surprised that Chavez didn’t take a swing
at the term illegal alien. Of course, that’s a tough case to make since the
words come straight from the Constitution and centuries of federal law.
Instead, the author spends much of the column space he was allotted to talk
about “chain migration.” It’s a hot topic which even showed up in the State
of the Union address. It’s also been around for decades, but now it’s being
deemed racist and offensive.
TRENDING: Trump: "Little Adam Schiff ... must be stopped"

Chain migration is not the only academic concept or demographic reality
manipulated to sound threatening in public discourse about immigration.

Chain migration has, since the 1960s, referred to the process by which
migrants from one city or town follow each other to a new destination,
possibly in another country. Thanks to chain migration, even low-income
families can create or maintain social networks and access a wealth of
social capital. Early arrivals support newcomers with a place to stay,
resources and information about the local labor market, schools and
culture. Chain migration facilitates cultural integration.

Chain migration happens in part because we allow immigrants into the
country on the basis of family ties.

Curiously, Chavez seems to shoot his own argument down a bit later in the
essay while criticizing the President’s use of the phrase. He complains
that it, “*evokes unwashed masses invading the country — one person after
another in an unbroken chain*.”

Well… *yes*. It does evoke precisely that image because that’s exactly what
we’re talking about. Of course, it’s the author, not Trump, who chooses to
add the phrase “unwashed masses” which could make it sound significantly
more derogatory I suppose. But it’s obviously a description of a “chain” of
people who arrive based on their “links” to the first person to make it
safely over the border. Also, and somewhat ironically, choosing unwashed
masses takes what was historically a pejorative term and spins it into a
mashup of a couple of references from *The New Colossus*. (“Huddled masses
yearning” and the visuals of, “wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”)

Also note that Chavez, along with too many others in this debate, refers
continuously to “chain *migration*.” It’s an interesting choice in this
context because migration simply implies movement. When you describe
migration, be it by humans, animals or chemical compounds spreading from
one medium to another, all you’re really talking about is relocation. It
could be applied to hunter-gatherers fleeing a drought stricken area for a
region with more rainfall. But what we’re really discussing here is chain
*immigration*, and that’s a very different word with specific legal
connotations. It shares little in common with simple migration and
obviously involves something more properly described in terms of being a

Chavez also takes issue with the concept of “anchor babies” as being
clearly racist or some other “ist” on a long list of sins. That’s a
separate part of the immigration discussion (and a worthwhile one to have),
but it’s also not weaponized language. It’s a description of a process. And
much like the venerable term illegal alien, it serves a purpose in
communicating clearly. Attacking the words being used doesn’t move the
conversation forward or offer any new solutions.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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