The nomenclature for illegal immigrants page on this site has a summary of the major terminological battles about the labeling of people who cross borders illegally or overstay their visas. Restrictionists prefer to use the term “illegal alien” which is sometimes shortened to “illegal.” Among the criticisms that have been raised regarding this term is that, even if you care a lot about the legal versus illegal distinction and are unimpressed by the moral and practical counter-arguments, it is still inaccurate to call a person an “illegal” because illegality refers to an action rather than to a person. The argument is made, for instance, in this article on Diversity Inc.
Sophisticated restrictionists would no doubt counter that, obviously, discerning thinkers on the issue can understand the difference between illegal presence in a particular country and being an illegal person. Thus, when language change advocates argue against the use of the word “illegal” they are underestimating the intellectual sophistication of the people using these terms. This may well be the case, but I find at least one piece of evidence that points in the other direction: the use of the term “job thieves” for those illegal immigrants who find jobs.
I first encountered the term in a fascinating and illuminative piece by the courageous anti-immigration activist Brenda Walker for VDARE titled Sign Of “Improved Economy”—Media Happily Proclaim Illegal Mexicans Are Coming Again. (Walker is an outspoken critic of murders and other crimes committed by illegal immigrants and maintains a website here that sheds light on this important issue. While I’m sympathetic to criticism of violent and property crime, and admire Walker’s courage in raising this issue, I’m more skeptical of her singling out immigrants, particularly considering that the statistics suggest that she could better achieve her noble goal of reducing crime by broadening her focus to include crimes by US natives. But that’s a minor quibble).
In her piece, Walker uses two interesting terms for illegal immigrants that I hadn’t encountered in the past: “pests” and “job thieves.” I was naturally curious about the extent to which this terminology was unique to Walker. Turning to Google, I discovered that “pest” as a synonym for illegal immigrant was quite rare. In fact, the only other use of this metaphor I could find was a Yahoo! Answers question. I will therefore refrain from critiquing this choice of terminology, because I share Bryan Caplan’s rule of thumb:
As a rule, I do not respond to positions that are neither plausible nor popular.
However, “job thieves” seems to be a relatively popular description of illegal immigrants, so it would be incumbent upon me to respond to this choice of terminology. A quick Google search reveals many hits for “illegal immigrants” “job thieves” and a cursory glance suggests that about half these hits are written by people supportive, rather than critical, of the term. Continue reading “Are illegal immigrants job thieves?” »