George Lakoff's latest bit of "framing" or "spin," depending on one's perspective (CC thinks redefining "spin" into "reframing" is the cleverest thing George Lakoff has done), is that we should term people not in this country legally "economic refugees."
I am torn on this term for a couple of reasons and I'd like to take it apart.
The part of the term I like is: "economic." I do view immigration as fundamentally an issue of economics and it confuses me when other people don't. The "we're turning into a Spanish-speaking country!" people confuse me just as much as the "They're poor! And we're big rich Americans with infinite resources!" people do*. I'm not certain what role arguments that ignore economics should play here.
This is fundamentally an issue of economics. These folks aren't coming here because they want to be Americans. (Indeed, it must really suck for them to leave their families and their culture.) They need money. In large numbers, they send money home. Surely they want to be at home.
This indicates to me that the obvious solution is sustainable development for Mexico and consequences if Mexican leaders do not start taking better care of their people. If immigrants are no longer coming here for purely economic reasons, then the ones that do come really want to be here. Win-win, IMHO.
The part of the phrase I don't like is "refugee."
Being poor sucks. It does. But it is not the same thing as being persecuted by your government for religious or political reasons. If we loosen the term "refugee" so much that it looses meaning, what hope will these people, the ones who need us the most, have? It sucks to have to live in a substandard place, eat non-nutritious starchy food and not have access to adequate medical care. But it is not on the same scale of immediate awfulness as, say, living in a country where everyone with your skin color is being systematically hunted down and killed.
It seems common among YRUUers (and some adults) for "You're oppressing me!" to be code for "You're not letting me do what I feel like doing!" I've noticed just in my years working with youth that the impact the word "oppressed" has on me has begun to wane. Let's not do that to the word "refugee," a word that for most of us still brings to mind people truly in desperate and immediate fear for their lives.
*That said, the people complaining about the influx of poor people at least seem consistent in that they dislike the poor people here, too. That people who spend seemingly all their time complaining about America on every other issue and pointing to the superiority of every other country suddenly see letting poor people into America as the solution for fixing their lives, is indeed mystifying. Nobody is advocating transporting people looking for a better life to Europe, Australia or Canada. We KNOW those countries won't let people in. When we require noblesse oblige from someone, it's always bad old America.