Pesky Language

Copyright © by Len Holman, 7/28/14


  Language can be a servant, a clarifier, a burden, a straitjacket, and/or a vehicle moving all of us toward solutions. The language surrounding the current influx of immigrants to the U.S. certainly moves us, but where?  Tens of thousands of Central Americans are fleeing the terror, crime, rape and general violence in their countries, crossing through Mexico and coming into the U.S., where they walk up to a border patrol agent and say, “You got us.” 

  They are not fleeing into the shadows of the American dream, but trying to get to a clean, well-lighted place.  This movement of people is called a “Humanitarian crisis” or an “immigration crisis,” or a “refugee crisis,” or a “crisis of leadership,” depending on one’s political affiliation.  This “crisis” is really putting the collective underwear of the House GOP and various Tea Party fellow travelers in a huge knot.  The word “crisis” is used more and more for situations which are not just mortifying, dangerous, and disheartening, but for things one side or the other of the political spectrum don’t like and don’t want. 

  It’s not a crisis for us that hundreds of thousands of people have fled Syria and who now—and for the foreseeable future—live in hopeless squalor.  It’s not a crisis that the Israelis and Palestinians can’t even agree that sand is gritty, and it’s not a crisis that the worldwide water shortage will become wars for a liquid which is not oil within thirty years.  The immigration situation is a problem which is a “crisis” because it’s Obama’s fault. Or it’s the hard-line GOP House members’ fault, or it’s the fault of ragtag pseudo-governments in Central America which can’t govern.  Obama wants some money for fixing the problem, but the Speaker of the House says he wants a “blank check.”  Mr. Speaker, a “blank check” is blank.  It has no amount, and no object to be paid for.  Obama named a specific amount (3.8 billion) and a specific set of parameters for spending the money.  Boehner needs to get his metaphors straight, but he chose this phrase purposively, knowing the laziness of the American mind in parsing sentences and phrases. 

  The phrase I really like, though—the one which gets my imagination to light up—is the one which hard-line Republicans use with great abandon and little thought. That phrase is “securing the border.”  Now, “securing the border” is as comforting a phrase to some as “Santa will bring you a pony” is to some children.  A secure border is a protected, inviolable, impenetrable one, leaving those inside the protection of this secure state safe from crazed immigrants carrying disease, and the dirt and microbes of Central America and Mexico.  This securing function will require a fence and troops and some drones and people with hand-lettered signs throwing rocks.  The fence will cost an estimated 6.6 billion dollars, which is an estimate not worth much, since every estimate ever produced by the U.S. turns out to be a fraction of the actual cost. 

  There is no estimate on how high the fence will be, but until immigrants learn to fly, it will be high enough to keep them from jumping, climbing, and crawling over it.  The drones are going to strafe the women and children as they cross the river---not hit them (our legislators are not inhumane), just shoot AT them, to scare them back to Honduras.  The National Guard will come in handy to stem the “surge” of illegal (not undocumented) people.  They will form a human chain to push the crowd back, standing hip-deep in water, maybe firing over their heads.  Now THAT’S secure! 

  Maybe it’s true that almost seven billion dollars could be better spent than for a high-tech fence, the likes of which any celebrity living in the Malibu Colony has, at a small part of the cost, but with better gadgets.  Representative Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama, has suggested that the U.S. just buy a bunch of airline tickets and fly all these peasants back home.  Much quicker and cheaper that way.  The 2008 law which allows people who enter the U.S. to get a hearing if they are victims of trafficking is just a waste of time.  Gov. Rick Perry of Texas (he thinks those nerdy glasses will make voters think he has gained Presidential intelligence since his last time in the national spotlight) wants his National Guard on alert against those sneaky kindergarteners who are probably smuggling poisoned crayons into our pristine land.  Let’s not forget that there is an election coming up (there is ALWAYS an election coming up, it seems), and each side really believes it holds a winning hand.  Search the news outlets all you want and you will not hear any political person talking about what’s good for the country or the immigrants involved.  You will hear about who is to blame and who is to BE blamed, and you will hear nothing about the decades of benign neglect (and a lot of not-so-benign neglect) concerning this issue.  If I had an answer to the problem, I certainly would expect the President to call me, since he seems to have a lot of other things on his plate right now.  If he DID call, I’d tell him---wait, I think I hear the phone ringing….


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