Illegal Immigration Isn’t an ‘Invasion’
When ideologues on the left and the right want to make a case for why the government really needs to crack down on something, they rhetorically elevate the offense. One example from the left is the desire to impose speech codes or hate speech laws. “Words are violence,” some argue. After all, being rude can cause “stress” or “harm,” just like wielding a knife or gun.
The same lame bombast also infects the right. “It is an invasion, that’s not an overstatement,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson told his viewers last month, referring to illegal migration. The purpose of these rhetorical maneuvers is clear. If words are violence, then we should treat insults like assaults. If illegal migration is an invasion, border crossers should be treated like an enemy in a war.
I don’t care much for politically correct language. I avoid the euphemism treadmill. Whether you call people who violate immigration law “illegal aliens,” “undocumented noncitizens,” or “unauthorized immigrants” doesn’t make much difference to me (or the law). But illegal migration is not an invasion any more than words are violence. The problem is the inaccuracy, not the politics.
The Constitution requires the federal government to protect against an “invasion”—what every court that has reviewed the question has interpreted to mean an “armed hostility from another political entity.” James Madison labeled invasion a “foreign hostility” or attack by one state on another, and the Constitutional Convention debates connected the power to repel invasions with the power to raise armies. All the widely used English dictionaries from the Founding confirm this understanding, and of course, the other uses of invasion in the Constitution have the same meaning.
Using the word invasion as a substitute for illegal migration is both offensive to anyone who’s lived through a real one and insulting to the intelligence of everyone else. If you can’t tell the difference between 100,000 Germans arriving in Paris at the head of an army in 1940, and 100,000 Germans arriving in Paris today as tourists, it’s time to crack open a history book, not opine on immigration policy. Perhaps because they know the comparison to an invasion is so weak, nativists like former President Donald Trump also promulgate the risible conspiracy theory that foreign governments are “sending” the immigrants here.
Migration across the border may involve violations of U.S. laws, but the comparison to an invasion ends there. Border crossers aren’t coming to overthrow the government or take over the Capitol (unlike a few nativists this year). Indeed, it’s the U.S. government that is attempting to assail the migrants, not the other way around. People crossing the border actively try to avoid conflict with U.S. author
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