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A Notice Of Consent To Accept Refugees

President Trump signed Executive Order 13888 in September which requires states and localities to notify the State Department, in writing, of their consent to accept refugees. Governor Cuomo deserves credit for asserting New York State’s commitment to continuing America’s (and especially New York’s) tradition of welcoming refugees. Buffalo and Erie County signed on to make a point of their welcoming too. Chautauqua County would do well to follow suit.

The discourse around any immigration news always invites people who use the term “illegal” as a noun and a catch-all term for all non-citizens or non-natural-born citizens. Besides being a deliberately dehumanizing term designed to frame all immigrants as the “other”, it’s simply wrong. “Illegal” is misleading, harmful, and incorrect. In my experience, anyone who uses it in this manner is confused exactly what they’re angry about and they’re being used unwittingly to sow division among their fellow Americans.

To this point, the term “undocumented” is not just politically correct. It is correct. Non-citizens, like the kids I went to college with on a student visa or green card are not citizens but also not “illegal” in any sense of the word. Refugees from Syria or Lebanon must complete a rigorous vetting process that can take years. Once that is complete they are legally admitted into the country. These refugees are not “illegal” just as Jewish refugees escaping the Holocaust in WWII were not “illegal.”

People from Mexico and Central America working on farms across Upstate New York on work visas are not “illegal.” The work visa–like the asylum status, green card, student visa–gives them legal status inside the country regardless of whether they are citizens of the United States or not.

There are millions of people who live in America who are not citizens. They live and work here but are not given the benefits of formal citizenship like voting, social security et cetera. Only after such time as they meet the requirements, apply, and pass the test do they become citizens. Until then they are legally allowed to be here.

In some cases where immigrants overstay their visas they are technically committing an infraction until they renew it or are granted citizenship. Still this hardly seems worthy of the type of foaming-at-the-mouth anger and hatred directed at them by various politicians, talk radio, and the bigots infesting online comment sections.

Immigration and asylum are the two issues animating our politics and indeed many of Europe’s perhaps more than any other. Thus, it is very disheartening to read and listen to so many people with such a fundamental misunderstanding of these issues which are so important to our history. I am certainly no expert but I know that “illegal” is not a noun.

If only they knew how silly they sounded getting so worked up about “illegals” when in fact there is no such thing. No human being is illegal.

Derek Smith is a Frewsburg native.

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