Jack Ingram

I read an interesting article in the Mustang Daily last Wednesday about the Cal Poly “Factbook.” According to the article, ethnic and racial diversity is being augmented at Cal Poly. Unfortunately, as was illustrated in Thursday’s letters-to-the-editor section, acceptance of those who are racially and ethnically different isn’t so widespread.

Some students feel very strongly about the current immigration issue. Strongly enough that some have become xenophobic, dehumanizing immigrants and willing to make them the scapegoats for all of our society’s problems – a society that most people do not consider these same immigrants to even be a part of. At least, not legally.

Before continuing, I couldn’t call myself a student of political science if I didn’t try to define the terms we often use, and don’t fully understand. When speaking about immigration, some people refer to those who are here without documentation as “illegal,” while others simply refer to such people as “undocumented.” So which is correct – “illegal” or “undocumented”? The problem with the former term is that by defining something (or someone) as “illegal” implies that it is part of the legal system. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, illegal is defined as “against the law.” Behavior that can result in either criminal sanction or civil sanctions is illegal.

Clearly the term “illegal” immigrant is a misnomer when used to refer to people who have no “right to be here.” Using the word “illegal” implies that such people are, in fact, part of our legal system.

If you or I do possess a “right to be here,” as one letter to the editor claimed, where exactly does it say that? What gives you and I the “right to be here” that these other human beings do not have? I have studied the Constitution for some time now, but nowhere, not even in the Bill of Rights, have I ever encountered the “right to be here.”

These immigrants didn’t just suddenly appear here. They’ve been here – and for decades. The only reason this issue has come into the limelight is mainly political. Heading into a midterm election season, the climate surrounding the GOP has been anything but conducive to re-election. With the whole Iraq/Katrina/money laundering charges/I shot someone in the face debacles fresh in the minds of voters, politicians are desperate to differentiate themselves from their corrupt and incompetent peers, using divisive issues such as abortion and immigration in attempts to re-define themselves to their constituents. Politicians of this sort hope that by raising such issues they will “wag the dog,” and that the unscrupulous and uncritical voter will be none the wiser. Sadly, many who succumb to current political strategizing are likely to become victims of xenophobia and confusion when politicians blame immigrants for all of our countries economic and security issues.

All the semantics aside, I’d like to pose a question to my readers: Are these so-called “illegal” immigrants part of our system, or not? If not, why not? If yes, then why all the debate about how to integrate them fully into society – Why not grant these humans beings the same rights as all other Americans? Also, regardless of these issues, there is debate as to the economic role/function of immigrants. What exactly is their economic role? How does their economic role contribute to their playing a greater part in American society? And to any other legal beagles out there: What are the ex post facto implications of creating legislation today, legislation that would make people who emigrated here “illegally” years ago, a crime?

Jack Ingram is a political science senior and a Mustang Daily columnist.

I urge all readers of this commentary to write in and share your answers to these questions, and hopefully, raise new ones. E-mail me at Jlingram@calpoly.edu or simply write a letter to the editor.

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