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  by  Christy Shaw

Language, Leadership & the Law


Language matters. The words we choose to use, whether in speech or in writing, as well as those we choose to leave out, have powerful effects on our perception of circumstances and the emotions evoked in favor of, or in opposition to, opinions and beliefs we ultimately embrace to decide what is right, wrong, just or unjust.

The language we employ to describe a situation should be chosen with care and stewardship for telling the truth as factually and honestly as we can. We could do with better leadership by many these days who speak and write from leadership positions of influence to very wide audiences.

Take for example the telling of Suny Rodriguez' story published June 15, 2019. (Read the referenced article here in The New Yorker.) The author, Sarah Stillman, uses a style of story-telling and word choices to highlight the horrors of gang violence in Honduras, Suny's country of origin.

To be clear, if this story is factual, one's heart does go out sincerely to Suny and her tremendous loss and the agony she has experienced as a result of the violent deaths of her parents and an ex-boyfriend with whom she had two children before first coming to the U.S. (Questions remain about the status or whereabouts of these first two children.)

The author of this article uses language and a narrative style to intentionally manipulate the reader's perception to pay attention ONLY to the details of Suny's family circumstances back in Honduras and how she claims to have been mistreated by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

Again, Suny's loss is tragic and heartbreaking. AND the fact that she did receive asylee status eventually, indicates that she did have a credible fear claim from the start. So why then did she not choose the legal pathway to be granted asylum in the first place?

But the writer of this story purposefully fails to acknowledge the following facts with respect to Suny's illegal crossing of the United States' border:

  • That Suny chose to cross the U.S. border illegally 2 separate times.
  • That Suny was an illegal alien (she was eventually given asylum after her second illegal crossing, so essentially she was rewarded twice for illegal behavior.) The term used in this article and by so many writers and the television media today of "undocumented immigrant" is both not a legitimate legal term, nor is it factual. One cannot be an "immigrant" and not have documentation because ONLY people who apply for legal permanent status (to aquire a green card) are immigrants. Everyone else is either an illegal alien or here on a visa temporarily. But "undocumented immigrant" is a term pushed by advocates to downplay significantly that the person has committed an illegal act.
  • That Suny was awarded Temporary Protected Status AFTER she had crossed the border illegally one year before the hurricane.
  • That Suny knowingly chose to forfeit her TPS to leave the U.S. AND gave up her right to get a driver's license and work permit to return to Honduras.
  • That Suny chose to stay in Honduras, under the same alleged violent conditions, for 9 years before again choosing to return as an illegal alien in 2015.
  • That Suny seems to have abandoned her first two children, then brought a new boyfriend and her third child to the U.S. also as illegal aliens.
  • That Suny NEVER applied for re-entry through the appropriate asylum process in that whole 9 years, instead choosing to only claim asylum when the CPB caught her, her son and her boyfriend makes it plausible to question if CPB had not picked them up whether she would have thought nothing of continuing to remain in the country illegally.
  • That Suny's choices as an illegal alien are undermining public support for asylees who follow the law and are forced to go unheard or get pushed further down the road because of the clogged and backlogged system.
  • That Suny already had legal status under TPS and could have applied for permanent asylum during that time. Instead she chose to give it up and still received asylum after crossing the second time illegally.

We can grieve and empathize certainly for Suny's family circumstances. But what about many equally tragic circumstances of other migrants who choose to follow our laws from the start? For every person crossing the border illegally and making false asylum claims, another migrant who has a legitimate claim for asylum waits even longer for a hearing. Where is the fairness and humanity in that?

If we don't require foreigners who want to come to this country to obey our immigration laws, and our own government refuses to enforce those laws uniformly, how can the immigration system, including the asylum process, ever function the way it is intended?

If we condone and even reward illegal immigration, what message are we sending to the world and to our own citizens and legal permanent residents about fairness, due process and a democratic government that is meant to serve its people; this being the same government protections that migrants themselves hope to live under?

Our strength as a unified people comes both from being diverse, but also and equally from being unified in our understanding and cherishing of what being an American really means.

CHRISTY SHAW is the Development Officer for NumbersUSA

Updated: Fri, Jul 5th 2019 @ 1:55pm EDT

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