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Klinke Immigration Blog

Words Matter: From “Shithole” to “Chain Migration”

As a lawyer, I know how much words matter. In an asylum case saying once that you were hit with a fist and then later saying you were slapped can be the difference in approval or denial. How you choose to label or call something sheds light on how you view it. For example, calling someone a racial slur shows hatred and fear. Words change the course of our lives, they change the course of history.

On Thursday, our president called El Salvador, Haiti, and all of Africa “shithole countries.” Yes, El Salvador, Haiti and certain countries of Africa (because Africa is actually a continent comprised of 54 countries), have had struggles. These are not “shithole countries” – at best, these are countries who have had tragic recent histories and have had crappy things done to them. But that does not make them “shithole.”

These are countries with strong, proud histories. They are countries of heroes, of innovators, of humanitarians – just like every country is. They have endured hardships and calamities that no one should have to endure. We all go through seasons of difficulty, but that’s when we rely most on our friends and neighbors. Earthquakes, hurricanes, gang violence, military dictators – those are the reasons citizens of these countries rely on the United States.

No one ever gets through life without needing help. The U.S. has certainly relied on others for help in our darkest times – in recent history, that’s been after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Irma. No one and no country gets through on their own.

Earlier in the week, the administration started using “chain migration” to talk about our family-based immigration system. “Chain migration” takes the humanity and the family out of the conversation. Chains are cold and tough. Chains don’t make your Christmas cookies, they don’t pick up your children from daycare because you’re running late from work. Chains don’t know your most private secrets, they don’t love you unconditionally. Do you know what does? Family does.

Your parents, children, spouses, and siblings are your source of support, your source of identity, your world. The administration even went so far as to talk about grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins as part of the “chain migration” problem – yet, there’s no way for those types of relationships to lead to any type of immigration benefit.

“Chain migration” isn’t even a thing. Family-based immigration is about keeping families together. But it sounds so much harsher to say “we’re stopping family unity” than it is to say “we’re stopping chain migration.”

I really did intend to focus on TPS and DACA today, but how can we get to policy solutions when the people in power don’t see TPS and DACA recipients as worthy of respect and consideration?

I challenge all of us to look beyond labels and to look into the faces of people being impacted by this incredibly demeaning rhetoric.