It always surprises me when people don't understand why they shouldn't use the expression "illegals." It reminds me of arguments I used to have with my grandmother when she'd talk about "that colored fella." I start off gobsmacked and then recognize that I'm only being asked to explain the offense because the other party is defensive and looking to project their guilt the other way (which is pretty much the ne plus ultra when it comes to right-wing propaganda).
That said, I'm happy to explain. It's why I blog!
The phrase "illegals" is designed to evoke a certain people. It is not meant to describe anyone walking around in a state of illegal activity. We didn't refer to Jack Abramoff or Ken Lay as "illegals," despite the deep, damaging quagmire of illegality they subjected the whole fucking country to. Nor do we refer to people who fail to pay taxes as "illegals," (mostly, we call them 'Republican Donors'). Shoot, I bet when you heard Rick Perry and Mitt Romney trying to out "illegal" each other, no one even pictured that cute Australian guy you used to know with the expired student visa.
No, the phrase "illegals" is meant to evoke a very particular kind of person. I'm actually surprised that Herman Cain didn't bust out a phrase like "Senor Illegal," since his since of humor is just that sophisticated.
The phrase "illegal" is artful and does exactly what it's meant to do: strip the humanity away from the person it's ascribed to so that we* can feel OK about sending them back to Mexico, away from their homes. This way, we can ignore the fact that deportation rips husbands away from their wives, and mothers away from their children. It's not a real person who's lived here for twenty years, it's not a part of a community. It's not some American teenager's Mom. It's an "illegal," not an actual person that we are sending back to a kind of poverty that we don't understand in this country (yet...).
And, while we're at it with these goddamn illegals (who are also called "parasites" because the most important thing is that this is not a person), let's talk about those anchor babies who've lived here for 17 and a half of their 18 years. You know, there was a plan to let them join the military for a couple of years in exchange for legal status. Well, fuck those guys! No matter how much service you give to our country, you're still an illegal parasite. Go back to that place I'll call your home even though you've never fucking lived there.
And, as a special added bonus, we can hurl about the invective "illegals" as an easy peasy way for the rest of us to feel smug about our own legal status. After all, our ancestors followed the proper channels to get here! It doesn't matter that what constituted a "proper channel" back in the old days was to jump on a boat and get herded through Ellis Island, after which you could look forward to spending a great deal of time getting shit on by the nativist, xenophobic assholes who'd been here longer. Nativist, xenophobic bullshit is our birthright, motherfucker! My grandfather didn't stare down a "No Irish Need Apply" sign just so some illegal Mexican could wash dishes at the Denny's.
I got ranty. Sorry. This phrase "illegals" makes me very angry. But let me try to appeal to the better angels of the nativist, xenophobic right-wingers out there: you know who you sound like when you get all snobby and paranoid about the extant culture of the country? You sound like the fucking French is who you sound like. Enjoy your freedom fries.
*I say "we" here purposefully. As a supporter of the president, I count too on the wrong side of this rant. Obama's record on deportation is shameful. And cruel. And stupid. He broke up all those families and sent all those people away from their homes so he could look tough on immigration to a bunch of nitwits who don't even believe he's a real American. I hope he gets better on this in his second term.