This rant has been coming on for some time. I started getting angry when Republicans began to co-opt words and phrases for their own use, usually giving them a negative twist. I became even angrier when the rest of us stood by and let it happen. What has finally set me off is the negative reaction I get when I use the word "amnesty" during discussions about undocumented workers and other people in this country illegally.
Amnesty is not a dirty word, however there are quite a few others used during this debate.
Xenophobe, protectionist, illegal, bigot, alien......and the list goes on.
The debate over the best way to approach the challenges presented by the massive number of people who are in our country illegally can get ugly. It's a debate I have rarely entered over the past few years because while I feel one way, I find it easy to put myself in the shoes of some of those folks on the other side of the debate. I personally have no problem offering a path to citizenship, but I understand the feelings of those who do have a problem with it. I put myself into the shoes of the unemployed in hard hit areas of North Carolina and I imagine their fear and frustration. Can you imagine what it feels like to have your job and the jobs of hundreds, sometimes thousands of friends, neighbors and family members taken to a factory in another country? Can you imagine the anger and frustration they must feel when people in this country are so concerned about what is fair to non-citizens who are here trying to live the American dream when that dream is so far out of reach for so many American citizens? I can imagine their fear, anger and frustration. I don't think that makes them protectionists or xenophobes. It makes them human and certainly worthy of as much compassion as those here illegally.
A lot of things about this issue bother me and most of them center around the use of words, or in some cases the misuse of words. Many of those who are outraged when an undocumented worker is called an "illegal" have absolutely no problem flinging words like xenophobe, protectionist or bigot about.
Witness the reaction when I asked John Autry, a candidate for congress, if he was pro amnesty during a live-blog here at BlueNC. I was told I was framing the question a certain way simply because I used the word amnesty. The fact is, I was using amnesty because it accurately describes the situation and it does so using only one word. In reading the comments of the linked diary it's clear that the only real objection is to the use of that one word. Autry, like so many other politicians refused to own the word. Instead he chose to equivocate. I have a problem with that because believe it or not, I am pro amnesty.
I like the word. I like it a lot. Why? Because it satisfies two important needs for me in this debate. First it recognizes the fact that people in this country illegally have broken the law. Second, amnesty offers them a pardon for having done so. To pardon someone is to forgive them. Why, why, why are Progressives running away from a word that basically means to forgive? It simply doesn't make sense to me. We should own this word.
The argument over how best to deal with undocumented workers and their families is not going to go away. It's going to get louder and uglier. I don't know if I'll get louder and uglier along with it. I do know that I'm tired of being criticized for using the word amnesty appropriately. There is no better word to use to describe the pardoning of those in this country illegally. I believe in protecting our borders, but I'm not a xenophobe or a protectionist. I believe that we can offer a path to citizenship that doesn't necessarily move these massive numbers of undocumented workers to the front of the line. I believe this path can be as punitive or as rewarding as we wish to make it and working together we could probably figure out something that's acceptable to almost everyone. I also believe that once we have offered this path to forgiveness - because it won't be unconditional - those who do not choose to follow the path then take responsibility for their own futures and what they might hold, even if that future is deportation or jail.
It isn't those of us using the word amnesty who give it a bad name, it is those who are running away from it doing that disservice. Embrace amnesty. Embrace forgiveness. Own the word. Control the debate.
Well, that's the end of the rant. If anyone's up to it, there are two phrases I want to take back. Maybe we can work on those later. They are "family values" and "personal responsibility".