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USAC resolution criticizes use of term ‘illegal’ for undocumented individuals

By amanda schallert

Aug. 26, 2013 1:49 a.m.

The undergraduate student government unanimously passed a resolution at its Tuesday meeting that criticized the use of the word “illegal” to describe undocumented individuals.

The “Drop the I-Word” resolution stemmed partially from students’ recent reactions to the appointment of former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano as the next University of California president and also from general concerns about undocumented students feeling unwelcome on UCLA’s campus.

Some students have protested Napolitano’s history with immigration reform, namely, the record number of undocumented individuals who were deported from the U.S. during her leadership of the Department of Homeland Security.

Multiple members of the Undergraduate Students Association Council brought the resolution to the council, including External Vice President Maryssa Hall, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Jessica Trumble and General Representative Lizzy Naameh.

The councilmembers thought to propose the resolution after attending last month’s UC Student Association Congress and hearing the testimonies of undocumented students regarding their worries about Napolitano’s appointment, Hall said.

The resolution specifically emphasizes that campus partners, journalists and media organizations should no longer use the word “illegal” in reference to undocumented individuals.

Community Service Commissioner Omar Arce was one of the more vocal councilmembers supportive of the resolution at the USAC meeting last week. He said he thinks the resolution was necessary, and that any time a student feels unsafe on campus, it is a problem for USAC.

“Calling someone illegal is calling them someone that does not deserve to exist,” Arce said. “Words have power. Words have the opportunity to define people and create context.”

Hall said the resolution is just one step that needs to be taken to promote more inclusive language on campus.

Here are some selections from the resolution:

  • “… we are aware that certain racially derogatory language used in media, political discourse and other institutional settings has historically bolstered the foundation for racially harmful actions, including racial profiling practices, punitive policies targeting socially marginalized groups, hate crimes and violence …”
  • “… the use of the term illegals (the “I-word”) and its derivatives when referring to people dehumanizes and divides communities, contributing to punitive and discriminatory actions aimed primarily at immigrants and communities of color…”
  • “… undocumented students at UCLA and across the UC have expressed their concerns and fear with the recent appointment of Janet Napolitano, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, as the new University of California President …”

Compiled by Amanda Schallert, Bruin senior staff.

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