Proposal aims to remove ‘illegal’ from campus discourse on immigrants

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A recently introduced ASUC Senate bill aims to eschew the word “illegal” from campus discourse about undocumented immigrants.

Introduced to the ASUC Senate on Wednesday, the bill describes the term “illegal immigrant” as dehumanizing, divisive and racially charged. According to CalSERVE Senator Briana Mullen, a sponsor of the bill, the word “illegal” ought to apply to actions, not people.

“(The term ‘illegal’) has been used as a political strategy to criminalize immigrants, but also, it has psychological effects,” said CalSERVE Senator Sean Tan, a co-author of the bill. “It dehumanizes the individual. It makes them feel invalidated.”

If passed, the bill will ask ASUC President DeeJay Pepito to write a letter to faculty and administrators encouraging them to attend a training workshop meant to raise awareness about the experiences of undocumented students. Tan said that as an undocumented student, he hopes to spark a greater conversation about inclusivity on campus.

“A lot of this is a personal narrative,” Tan said. “It goes deep into undocumented students like myself about what it means to be in this university. Do I feel included in this university? In the more plain sense, do I feel welcome?”

Tan’s legislative director and co-author of the bill, sophomore Elioth Gomez, said he has witnessed unexpected support in the range of faculty members who have signed up for the workshop of their own initiative. Gomez, who describes himself as an undocumented student, noted the abundance of classes available on campus that inform students about immigration issues but added that there is progress yet to be made.

“Not all Berkeley students are on the same page,” he said.

Gomez called the bill “symbolic,” saying it aims to bring more attention to issues of immigration and the rhetoric surrounding it.

The bill follows a similar resolution approved by UCLA’s student government earlier this fall, as well as the efforts of Jose Antonio Vargas, an immigration activist who urged news publications to stop using the term. The Associated Press did so in spring of this year.

In response to that vote, the UCLA Bruin Republicans expressed their support for the term, voiced concerns that it infringed upon free speech and questioned whether the bill represented the overall opinion of their student body, according to the Daily Bruin.

Conversely, Berkeley College Republicans President Brendan Pinder called the bill’s sentiments “laudable” and criticized only its mention of former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s controversial appointment as UC president.

Independent Senator Naweed Mohabbat believes that the term “illegal” has become normalized in how people talk about undocumented immigrants.

“It’s up to us to take a stance on it and it’s up to us to start a conversation about it,” Mohabbat said.

Contact Melissa Wen at [email protected].