The only thing necessary for the persistence of evil is for enough good people to do nothing

Can a Person be Illegal ?

Immigration issues have been very much on the agenda across Europe in the past few years. As you know, I follow the subject very closely in relation to Greece. I am not an expert but I do have opinions on the issues like many others.

I would like to raise a question today about descriptions. The word “illegal” is so deeply entwined with “immigrant” that we rarely question it. But I want to ask how can a person be illegal ? A person can cross the border without papers but that person is not illegal. Maybe he/she is here illegally. Maybe he/she is undocumented. Maybe he/she is without papers. Maybe he/she is seeking asylum… but he/she is not illegal as a human being.

It has got to the point though, where we have connected the words so strongly that when we hear the word “immigrant”, we often make a subconscious link to the word “illegal”. Please read brownfemipower who has spoken more eloquently than anyone on subject of the criminalization of language.

Today, I would just like you to think about how the word “illegal’ being constantly attached to the word “immigrant” affects how you feel about the issues. And then do a leap. Think about how a different description might subtly change your opinion. Think about how describing a person as a person rather than an “illegal”, makes someone real rather than another problem.

I am very interested to know how you feel about this because it really bothers me.


  1. July 21, 2008    

    I feel that a human being cannot be “illegal.” Calling a person “illegal” strips away their humanity, their dignity, and makes someone the “other”.

  2. Green Card
    July 21, 2008    

    Nobody speaks of illegal “persons”. They speak of legal and illegal immigrants and since immigration can be done in one of two ways (yes people, it actually is that simple – you can window dress it all you like to no avail, either you follow the rules or not) it is a very fair description. Illegal immigrants can be paragons of legal behavior otherwise.

    I am a legal immigrant and I hate being bunched with those that jumped the line and broke the rules, however good their reasons may have been. In fact the reason that people hear “immigrant” and may think “illegal” is because of all your wonderful work at muddying the issue with tricks such as calling them undocumented workers etc. and calling anyone against illegal immigration an anti-immigrant racist. So most of the legal immigrants (that more often than not are not for illegal immigration (*)) end up being essentially told that they are against themselves…

    (*) unless they are themselves ex-illegal immigrants that want their relatives and friends to screw the system (and everyone waiting in line) the way they did.

  3. Xenos
    July 22, 2008    

    This is a very difficult issue. It divides across the political spectrum, with the Right claiming that those who migrated illegally are illegal immigrants, and the Left claiming that although there is such a thing as illegal migration, there are not illegal persons [immigrants].

    Insofar as the previous comment is concerned, the reality is that most of the immigrants in Greece (and also the USA) migrated illegally because that is the way those countries have arranged things. It is difficult, if not impossible, for unskilled people to migrate legally, yet they find work in their millions. The fault for this lies clearly with politicians, and less so with people coming from poor economies or war zones just looking for a better life. The waters are already muddy, and have been for the last 30 years in the USA, so the terminology is simply reflecting the confusion that actually is out there.

    In my view, the problem is not solved anyway by using obfuscatory terminology. It is far better to talk about illegal migration and demand that governments across the world open up their borders to legitimate workers (and refugees) instead of this arrogant mentality of exclusion — making people jump through hoops of fire to be allowed to work for minimum wage when nobody else will do the work anyway. Of course, as things are, many work for much less than minimum wage, which tells you what the whole game of immigration controls is really about — taking advantage of those less fortunate than ourselves.

  4. bfp
    July 22, 2008    

    green card, it’s probably different in your area than it is here in my area (i’m in the u.s.) but here in my area, they absolutely call people “illegal”–they say “the illegals” for short hand. This happens on news orgs, on websites, in newspapers and t/v media. and it is a *specific* strategy used to create the problem that you’re talking about–have everybody question–is that person legal or not. Because for the groups who insist on “illegals” to describe people, to them, the point is not “legality” the point is, there is one *true* America, and it doesn’t matter where you come from, if you weren’t born in the U.S., you don’t belong here.

  5. Nikos
    August 2, 2008    

    The same term in greek, “paranomos”, when on it’s own it means outlaw. As such we never use it alone to describe illegal immigrants. On the other hand, what worries me is that the word that is taking a bad turn here, is the word immigrant. Which is kind of ironic, as we always considered ourselves a nation of immigrants.

  6. Xenos
    August 2, 2008    

    THe Greek state uses the term “lathrometanastes” within which they apparently include asylum-seekers, although that is contrary to the Geneva Convention.

  7. Post Disagreement
    October 28, 2008    

    No illegal immigrant is an accurate term….it someone who broke the law…to enter a country…thats what it means nothing more or less. Thats like asking is calling someone who stole something a theif dehumanizing?
    And there is no such thing as a RIght to migrate.
    That makes about as much sense as a right for me to come into your house uninvited.
    Immigration should be determined by the need of the receiving country not the sending country. Asylum seekers are another matter altogether.

    Legitimate Asylum seekers should not be classified as illegal. but the problem is that many are just so-called asylum seekers..they are economic migrants in actuality.

    Even if they were all legit the number accepted each year needs to moderated by the capacity of the receiving nation to deal with the numbers.

    i.e, its unreasonable to ask a country like Greece small and poor compared to the rest of EU Europe to carry the same burden as the USA or UK or Germany.

  8. October 28, 2008    

    i.e, its unreasonable to ask a country like Greece small and poor compared to the rest of EU Europe to carry the same burden as the USA or UK or Germany.

    Greece receives quite a large amount of financial support from the European Union to deal with immigration. Often that money disappears as it does in so many other cases here. That’s called corruption.

    And there is no such thing as a RIght to migrate.
    That makes about as much sense as a right for me to come into your house uninvited.

    I answered your migration point on another thread. It is not the same and people DO have the right to migrate.

  9. Post Disagreement
    October 28, 2008    

    Okay if thats the case then I disagree with that right…at least towards non-asylum persons and if it means a free for all system.

    Again not for Asylum seekers that are legitimate.

    In any case I am sure there must be some rules and conditions that regulate that right to migrate even if that is in EU law. If there are none then that makes it all the more a “silly” right. I could see where a country like France and England with their colonial history might have some moral obligation to accept some immigration from the countries they colonized in the past but that does not apply to Greece.

    Its not a free for all…i.e, if you can get in/sneek in you can stay….

    Anyway i really do not like the EU system (EUSSR) and the EURO it concentrates powers/federalize power away from the individual states and takes away a county’s control of its currency.

    BTW I am against all mass migration not just third world or colored…it harms the locals when richer German or British people come to Greece in mass and buy up the best real estate making it more expensive for the natives. Of course just as with the illegal immigration there are those who profit from that business.

    Again the benefits are personalized while the costs social and economic are socialized. This is why we , all countries, need sensible immigration policies that balance the needs of asylum seekers and the nations capacity to handle them and the needs of economic migrants and the situation in the local economy and population size.

    A free for all system is only going to cause problem as it has and radicalize at least some people in a reactionary way.