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They Aren’t a Mob of Aliens: How Dehumanizing Language Contributes to the Migrant Caravan Crisis

The latest polarizing topic Americans are buzzing about is the caravan of migrants making their way to the United States border. Their numbers have grown steadily since they began their journey from Honduras in mid-October, and are now estimated to be over 7,000.

This is a crisis. It’s a crisis to the men, women and children fleeing for their lives from gang violence and oppression in their home country. It’s crisis for the United States, whose resources and manpower won’t be enough to process, aid and safely manage a group of people of this magnitude. And it’s a moral crisis, the way we are once again picking teams, shouting at each other from behind our keyboards, and using actual human lives to defend our particular political immigration ideology. It’s gross.

The language we use to talk about and label people matters. When we refer to people as “aliens”, “illegals”, “invaders” and “mobs”, we are dehumanizing actual men, women and children. When we use terms like “catch and release” and “chain migration”, we minimize the real human souls behind these complex issues.

In her 2017 book Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown claims dehumanization always starts with language. She writes, “Dehumanization has fueled innumerable acts of violence, human rights violations, war crimes, and genocides. It makes slavery, torture, and human trafficking possible. Dehumanizing others is the process by which we become accepting of violations against human nature, the human spirit, and, for many of us, violations against the central tenets of our faith.”

The President of the United States stood in front of a crowd in Texas on Monday, calling himself a nationalist and using his trademark fear mongering to rile up his base against brown people seeking asylum. He once again spun the narrative that nefarious Middle Easterners and MS-13 gang members are among the innocent, seeking to wreak havoc on our country. There is no proof that this is the case.

Expressing and discussing real concern for laws, border security, and a humanitarian crisis is not mutually exclusive with speaking about human beings with dignity and compassion. We can fear for our own security and safety while at the same time fear for theirs. The citizens of the United States must insist on reasonable laws and processes for those wishing to enter our country, but also welcome those truly seeking asylum with open arms. And the truth is, we can speculate, but we do not know the stories, struggles and motives behind individuals’ desperate choices in the face of life-threatening circumstances.

Let us strive to be convicted, but not assume based on fear. We should be both discerning and kind. And we must recognize and reflect on our own privilege of citizenship while discussing practical solutions for those who find themselves with no place to call home.

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