When human beings are called “illegal” and “alien” by elected officials and law enforcement agencies and in the media, what kind of message are we spreading?

“Illegal” means “not according to or authorized by law” or “not sanctioned by official rules.”

When people are termed “illegal,” they are defined according to rules that say, even if they are trying to survive and make a living for themselves and their families, in a time when good paying jobs, with benefits and protections, are rare, especially for poor working families, it’s “illegal” to do so, right?

Generally when we hear the word “alien” the first thing that comes to mind is Star Trek, E.T. or Star Wars characters, something strange, distant, out of this world and non-human.

When we hear “human,” people with families, men and women workers, and children, with ordinary emotions we share like happiness, sadness, anger, love, hunger and even struggle, come to mind, right?

How can we not take offense when any human being is belittled and replaced with “illegal alien”?

In search of a better future

Immigrant workers come to the United States because so many have limited job opportunities in their home countries, especially when it comes to providing food, shelter, let alone an education for their families. But upon arrival they are referred to as “illegal aliens” and dubbed criminals.

Undocumented workers have few options entering the U.S. “legally” to make a living here. Families who travel to the U.S. from Central and South America do so because it is their only hope to survive and find relief from a life surrounded by poverty, underdevelopment and scant resources including jobs.

Every day immigrant workers risk their lives to come here and once they do they live in fear and in the shadows, under scrutiny and criminalization. It is their children who are the single most important reason why they work tirelessly, with hopes for a better future. And it is the children who suffer the most.

When children have to witness how their parents are dehumanized, criminalized and punished for trying to provide for them, it sends a cruel and irresponsible message contrary to the family values taught in American society.

Because of workplace or neighborhood raids, immigrant families are constantly being torn apart, instilling widespread community fear in a country that says it is fighting terrorism.

Such terror, enforced by immigration officials, haunts workers who want what any American citizen wants, to work and provide for their family in peace.

Imagine immigration agents invading your workplace or your home with bulletproof vests, machine guns and military gear and taking you away. Talk about alien abduction.

This needs to stop. Raids, deportations and separation of families should be illegal, and no parents should be forced to abandon their children.

Baby torn from her mother

Saida Umanzor, 26, originally from Honduras, was arrested after federal immigration agents and county police searched her house in Ohio with a warrant for her brother-in-law.

As they searched her house, Ms. Umanzor was with two of her U.S. citizen children, one of whom was a 9-month-old baby whom she breast-fed.

The officers checked Ms. Umanzor’s background and detained her for not previously appearing in immigration court. She was forced to leave her children. Along with her sister’s children, they were taken by county social workers.

While detained, Umanzor could not see her children. Her baby did not eat for three days, refusing to take formula from a bottle. After four days the children were finally released to Ms. Umanzor’s sister, who managed to wean the baby to a bottle.

Two-thirds of children whose parents were detained in immigration raids in the past year were born in the United States. At least 13,000 American children have seen one or both parents deported in the past two years after roundups in factories and neighborhoods. About 3.1 million American children have at least one parent who is an “illegal” immigrant.

President Bush says he is leading wars in Iraq and Afghanistan against world terrorism so that families in America can feel safe. Are working mothers nursing their babies a threat to our national security and the fight against terrorist attacks?

Did immigration agents find any secret conspiracy documents or weapons of mass destruction in Ms. Umanzor’s home? No, they found diapers, baby bottles and toys. What blatant hypocrisy when American family values are preached from the White House, and here is Ms. Umanzor, found guilty for nursing her child.

Their fight is our fight

In polls this year by ABC, CBS, Los Angeles Times/ Bloomberg, Fox and Pew, a majority has consistently supported allowing undocumented workers to obtain citizenship.

Whether someone comes from Mexico, Poland, India, Japan or Texas, does that mean that the right to shelter, a job, health care, or an education is different depending on where they come from? Are these basic human rights illegal?

Are immigrants being made a scapegoat for larger issues in our society?

Are poverty, lack of good paying jobs with benefits, overwhelmed public schools, lack of affordable housing and health care all the fault of immigrants?

Most people agree that immigrants fuel local economies with their consumer power and even open small businesses, not to mention pay all sorts of taxes.

The fight for immigrant rights is a fight for human rights. Their fight is our fight.

It is in the interest of every U.S. citizen to embrace immigrant workers and their families and ensure that their equality and civil rights are guaranteed without any limitations, including the right to apply for legal residence with a path to citizenship.

It’s only human for us to do so!


Pepe Lozano
Pepe Lozano

Chicagoan Pepe Lozano was a staff writer with the People's World through 2014. He comes from an activist family and has lived on the city's southwest side in a predominantly Mexican-American community his whole life. Lozano now works as a union organizer.