Defining our immigration terms

by J.C. Derrick

Posted on Friday, November 21, 2014, at 5:04 pm

One of our mottos at WORLD is “sensational facts, understated prose.” When it comes to immigration, President Obama’s bomb-lob into an already combustible situation certainly qualifies as sensational. So how can we achieve understated prose? 

One of the ways is by clearly defining our terms. I was reminded of this Thursday when I interviewed Victor Manjarrez, a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Border Patrol who now works for the University of Texas–El Paso’s National Center for Border Security and Immigration. Manjarrez told me as an agent he frequently received questions about “when the border will finally be secure,” so at speaking engagements he started passing out 3-by-5 cards and asked each person there to define border security. “If I had 50 people, I’d get 50 different responses,” he said.

Most often he said he would hear some variation of “stopping everyone who tries to cross” as the definition of border security. His response: “Do you have that same expectation for your local chief of police and sheriff?”

Manjarrez argues border security is about minimizing risk, just as chiefs of police and sheriffs do, and Americans must be reasonable about what they’re asking the border patrol to accomplish. 

Another example: At WORLD we infrequently use the word “amnesty” because it also means many things to different people. As I’ve reported on immigration issues over the last two years, I’ve often asked people—lawmakers, advocates, and average Americans—how they define “amnesty.” Rarely do I get the same answer. 

Was President Obama correct last night when he said amnesty is the current de facto system? Does amnesty mean anything other than sending illegal immigrants back to their home countries? (If so, how do you avoid taxpayers footing the bill for 11 million return trips?) Does amnesty mean a 1986-style free pass, where immigrants simply come forward and sign up without paying a penalty? Should they serve jail time to make restitution? Is it amnesty if citizenship is a possibility, but not if only legal status is offered? 

Here’s how Webster’s defines amnesty: “the act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.”

Many say what the president announced last night fits the definition. Others say passing background checks and paying a fee and owed taxes is making restitution for a misdemeanor offense. 

Here at WORLD we leave that choice to you—and hopefully it’s easier using clear-eyed reporting that doesn’t overuse politically loaded terms.

J.C. Derrick

J.C. is WORLD’s deputy chief content officer and WORLD Radio’s managing editor based in Dallas. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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