When I do general diversity and inclusion training, I often include a section on diversity of language and communications. I provide lists of the appropriate and respectful terms and words that people should use when referring to different groups of people. One example is using the term “sexual orientation” instead of “sexual preference,” which is insulting to gay people.
In a recent training session with a city police department, I got pushback when I shared that the respectful term to refer to immigrants who are here without proper documentation as “undocumented immigrants” instead of “illegal aliens.” I explained that all humans are created equally by God or whatever higher power you may or may not believe in and should be treated with respect. I do not believe God sees any person as “illegal.”
Some in the audience continued to argue that these are illegal bad people. I did try to have them separate a person’s actions from their humanity, and asked them, “If you do something bad from time to time, does that make you a bad person?” Yes, you can say that someone’s actions are illegal or bad, but that does not mean the person is illegal.
They still were not buying it. Then one person in the back of the room gave that old age argument, “they should come into this country legally like our ancestors did,” to which I replied, “I wonder what the Native Americans who were here before us think about that argument. Our forefathers stole their land from them and pushed them out.”
After the training, I then realized how I could further the discussion by asking them to have some empathy and put themselves in someone else’s shows.
EXAMPLE 1 – As Hitler was leading millions of Jews to the gas chamber, do you think the Jews may have the human right to get out of there any way they could, even if by illegal means? Or should they just stand by passively and get killed instead of illegally entering some other country?
EXAMPLE 2 – A good policeman just like you in Mexico is trying to fight the powerful drug cartels that are sending their drugs into the USA. The drug lords have already killed one police officer and their family, and have communicated to you that you, your wife and children are next on their hit list. Would you just stand by and let your family be executed, or would illegal escape to the USA to preserve you and your family’s life?
As a country and as individuals, let’s show some empathy and kindness toward everyone, including illegal aliens … WHOOPS … I mean undocumented immigrants.