On May 1st 2007, a MySpace page went live and was simply called “Project Economic Refugee.” At that time, that project was launched with a simple goal: to have the term “economic refugee” replace all other terms (such as “illegal immigrant”, “undocumented immigrant”, “illegal alien”, etc.) when discussing immigration policy. The project urged the American public to recognize that the “issue of illegal immigration” is first and foremost a HUMANITARIAN matter that has many layers of complexity: having tried everything to fight for change in the living conditions of their original countries, the only option that many immigrants find themselves with is to ensure the survival and well-being of their families and thus join in the United States’ low-wage market. The project has then expanded to include other matters beyond just immigration to better reflect the number of issues that impact the Latino community in everyday life. The following is the original intro as it greeted people visiting that founding MySpace page:
Hi, you don’t know me but my name is Refugio (friends call me “Reg”) and I want to recruit your help with this project. I started it because I just got tired of people talking about immigration in such dehumanizing, ignorant, and incompassionate ways and so I am doing something to change the status quo. There are many things that need to be set straight; like for example, did you know that many people that come to the U.S. and have no so-called “green cards” actually pay taxes?-For a list of facts about these “immigrants” go to: http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org/myths.shtml
Furthermore, people talk about “illegal aliens,” which dehumanizes the issue and implies that immigrants that enter the country with no documents are criminal, other-worldly beings. Yet no one talks about the fact that they are simply Economic Refugees (Refugiados por causa de la economia); human beings that have ventured to seek out a better life for themselves.
The notion that Economic Refugees flee their original countries without having tried to be successful over there or to change the status quo, is simply ridiculous. It is interesting that when random people in the mainstream population of the United States are asked for compassion towards the plight of Economic Refugees, they dismiss everything with comments like the following: “well if the [Mexican people] are so oppressed and destitute why don’t they rise up against their own government?!” Apparently (and not surprisingly), the mainstream American public is totally oblivious to the fact that the Mexican people have tried to change their country for decades-ever heard of the EZLN in Chiapas or of the Mexican government’s violent attempts to squash protestors in Oaxaca? This situation, of course, is not limited to Mexicans, the overwhelming majority of immigrants that flee their countries to escape hunger and/or violence do so because they have already tried EVERYTHING else they could do in their countries and they have ran out of options. For them, it’s a matter of survival.
But let’s get back to the issue of humanizing the dialogue on this: as a group, Economic Refugees are NOT criminal evil extraterrestrials. They are your gardeners, the ones that wash your dishes, that take care of your kids when you go to work, the ones that serve your food, the ones that pick up your harvest, the ones that serve and die for your country in the U.S. Military. They are also your kid’s best friend, boyfriend/girlfriend … even your own friend. Many families are mixed with members that have green cards and others that don’t. The father might have a greencard but the children might not. Or the children might be “legal” but the parents are not. The husband might have one but the wife might not. Even more horrendous, a kid with a green card might have just received his orders to deploy off to war and his mother might have just received a deportation order. So to pit “legal” immigrants against “illegal” ones or to talk about how an immigration reform would “permit illegals to cut in front of the waiting line” is frankly a dishonest use of words. This is all about the same issue: an issue of an Economic Refugee crisis.
This [MySpace] was launched to promote the “frame” or term that was presented on the article that George Lakoff, professor of Linguistics, wrote:
The only permanent solution to deal with the influx of Economic Refugees coming into the United States would be to raise the standard of living of their original countries. The United States could use its power to help, encourage, influence, and/or force those countries to offer better socio-economic opportunities via progressive social programs for their citizens. To reduce the discussion to a soundbite of “those that break our immigration laws must be punished and must not be rewarded for the criminal behavior” frankly leads to nothing productive. If you want to talk about doing illegal and/or wrong things then maybe you should talk about how the United States has oftentimes contributed to the economic woes of many countries. If you want to talk about taking responsibility for your own actions, then maybe the United States should take responsibility for what it has done with the International Monetary Fund’s INTERVENTIONS(click here for details) in third world countries. If you want to talk about wrongdoing maybe you ought to be talking about American companies like WalMart and its low wages/cheap labor practices. Maybe you ought to look into how some American business interests have gone into many countries, sucked them up dry, and bailed out; adding to their economic woes. People love to bring up how “illegals” are overwhelming the Healthcare system yet no one talks about how the Healthcare system itself is a joke. Instead of blaming the Economic Refugees, people should be talking about the things (like Universal Healthcare) that the U.S. government could implement to alleviate the situation. It is time for the United States to take responsibility for its own actions and for it to be once again a shining beacon of hope that sets the example for others to follow.
We have no doubt entered a new era in the way that we think of the people that escape their homelands and enter the United States because they seek to leave behind the poor economic and unlivable conditions of their original country. The purpose of Project Economic Refugee is to promote the usage of the Economic Refugees or Refugiados por causa de la economia term when dealing with the topic of immigration. The project calls on all those that understand that this is a HUMANITARIAN matter that has many layers of complexity. It is encouraged for everyone to act in any creative peaceful means to get the word out. Oftentimes the conversation that people have about people that immigrate into the United States centers around the issue of “legality”. Yet the situation has to do with more than just being “illegal” vs. “legal”.
The words or language that we use are a funny thing: we shape our language based on our reality and our reality is shaped by language. It’s a circular thing and we can break the cycle of ignorance; by introducing and having the Economic Refugee term replace all other terms (such as “illegal alien,” “undocumented worker”, etc.) we would have quite simply paved the way to help our society to think about the plight of so many human beings in a more humanitarian light. This is more than just about “political correctness,” as so many opponents would call out this effort. Let us be upfront about this: this is NOT about being “nice” by using the term Economic Refugee.” This is about being practical and realistic. By using new linguistic terminology, the way in which we think of immigration would be revolutionized and so the way in which we would seek solutions to the “problem” would be transformed to include broader, more effective, and more permanent “solutions”. This project depends on your creativity, so get out there and introduce the term Economic Refugee into your drawings, songs, essays, editorials, homework, presentations, speeches, art, signs, poems, films, demonstrations, flyers, blogs, conversations, billboards, … anything that you can think of!
Anyone that would like to support The Economic Refugee Project in any shape or form. This Project is currently collecting pictures that demonstrate who immigrants truly are: from the workers in restaurants to the people in media to the brave soldiers/marines/sailors/airmen in the U.S. Military. Oftentimes immigrants are portrayed in a sub-human light on the radio, TV, newspapers, and daily conversation. Furthermore, the maninstream media hardly covers the images of all those hard-working Economic Refugee individuals that work so diligently to make the United States great. So please send your pictures to: firstname.lastname@example.org so we can put them up on this MySpace page on a slideshow for everyone to see the faces of who Economic Refugees are and what we contribute to this country. Especially needed are pictures of those individuals of Latino origin that have either served or are currently serving in the U.S. Military. Please also send any pictures, written composition, or link to a video that shows the Economic Refugee term being used so it can be put up on this MySpace and on future websites as well.