I’ll confess that this was a headline that caught me by surprise. The Washington Post tossed out a story yesterday with the rather unlikely heading, Shutdown could hurt Democrats seeking reelection in Trump states. At issue are the seats up for grabs in states where Trump won, but which are held by Democrats. If their attempts to portray the shutdown as being Trump’s fault fail, rather than a stalemate over DACA, it might make for some uncomfortable explaining back home.
There were only a handful of Senate Democrats in that category and most of them voted to keep the government open. But the exception to that rule was Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. He falls into that “explanation” basket I referenced. (Washington Post)
Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., a Pennsylvania Democrat facing reelection this year in a state that narrowly voted to put Donald Trump in the White House, was the sort of senator Republicans hoped would vote against their bill to fund the government late Friday.
Casey obliged — and his likely 2018 opponent, recruited by Trump, wasted no time accusing him of voting to “put illegal immigrants over health insurance for our kids.”
But Casey scoffed at the barb, accusing Republicans of cynically adding an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program to the bill for political leverage — all for a spending deal that doesn’t provide a long-term road map for military spending, the opioid crisis or “dreamers,” the young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.
Most of the debate playing out on the floor of the Senate an at cable news desks has less to do with the specifics of how the government shutdown happened than a fight over the language that’s used to describe it. And as this separate WaPo piece from David Nakamura indicates (from the liberal perspective, of course), the way politicians and pundits are talking about DACA and the question of illegal immigration is shifting along with it. This brings us back to the traditional fight over whether we should say illegal aliens or “undocumented immigrants.”
Their disagreement over how to describe an estimated population of 11 million people might seem like minor semantics in the tempestuous, decades-long debate over how to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. But people on both sides say the yawning gap in language has come to symbolize — and directly contribute to — the inability of Congress and the general public to forge consensus. An impasse on immigration was at the center of the budget fight that led to a shutdown of the federal government Saturday…
On the right, Trump and his allies have warned of the dangers of “chain migration,” railed against “amnesty” for lawbreakers and urged a shift toward a “merit-based” system. Their choice of words suggests that immigrants are taking advantage of the United States and are a drain on society.
On the left, advocates have defended a tradition of “family reunification” and cast undocumented immigrants who arrived as children as “dreamers” and “kids” in need of special care — even though some are in their mid-30s. Their rhetoric paints immigrants as the fabric of the American experience and as strivers seeking a chance at success.
I’m not going to disagree with Nakamura in principle here. Language matters, and if we’re not all using the same terms in a meaningful debate it can cloud the issue. But the two sides aren’t fighting the battle of words on equal footing because the pro-amnesty crowd is putting forward a rather weak argument. On the right, the choice of saying “illegal alien” comes from both the Constitution and long-standing federal law. Saying “amnesty” is not only not offensive, but it’s a given. What’s being discussed is simply the textbook description of amnesty for a person who has broken the law. I’ll grant you that “chain migration” is probably a newer phrase for many observers, but the meaning is fairly clear and, again, accurate.
On the other side of Nakamura’s argument is the language of the pro-amnesty forces. As we’ve discussed here before, “undocumented immigrant” is a pompous and inaccurate term. The person in question is technically an immigrant, sure. But if you go into the bank, stick a gun in the teller’s face and demand a bag full of cash you’re not making an “undocumented withdrawal.” You’re robbing the bank. Democrats have really latched onto the new craze of “family reunification” but that’s a red herring also. First of all, the family could just as readily be reunified in the home country of the illegal alien. Further, how many people do we lock up in prison every year for breaking other laws? They’re separated from their families also. Shall we do away with incarceration for all crimes?
The language may be bogged down at times, but the Democrats are going to have to invent a bunch of new words if they want to talk their way out of this mess. The only reason the government is closed right now is because Senate Democrats refused to vote for a funding bill which contained nothing they seriously objected to in the past. They’re trying to shoehorn DACA in there and unless they get their way on it they appear determined to keep Washington shut down. And that’s the language that members like Bob Casey are going to have to figure out before the midterms.