The Life and Times of the Undocumented Worker

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Short note: The following is a terministic screen analysis I wrote for my Modern Grammar & Advanced Composition class. We were encouraged to share our writing in a public forum, so I figured posting this here would suffice. I'm working on a more cohesive post with life updates and what not in the future, so be on the lookout for that soon.

Other note: This blog surpassed 1,000 views this week! My heart is full. Thank you for your continued reading, commenting, and support. I love and appreciate all of you.

The Life and Times of the "Undocumented Worker."

The blistering hot summer days in the Central Valley present opportune time to harvest fruit, ripened by the heat and picked off tall trees by individuals in the fields. The majority of these individuals are immigrants, accomplishing a key stage in the agricultural cycle that powers the Central Valley. As a family that owned a fruit packing shed and hired immigrant workers, we constantly found ourselves in an ongoing conversation about illegal immigration and workers seeking employment without proper documentation. Immigration reform has always been a hot topic, where words like “closed borders,” “undocumented,” “illegal,” and “deportation” were readily tossed around the kitchen table growing up. Individuals working in the US without proper citizenship or paperwork have been labeled both “illegal” and “undocumented,” and while both have implications, I want to focus on the latter, analyzing the implications that come with the terministic screen “undocumented worker:” how it selects, reflects, and deflects reality, influencing not only our idea of the individual, but their ideas about themselves.

Before beginning the linguistic analysis, we need to unpack a little of the history behind the screen “undocumented worker.” Growing up in the Central Valley, the issues with immigration were common knowledge and constantly discussed among friends and classmates, parents and employers, pastors and local politicians. There is a significant split in the Central Valley between the conservative older generation, and growing liberal youth. Where my friends in high school stood firmly against the terminology of “illegal” immigrants, my conservative father refused to see them as anything else but “illegal.” The terministic screen “undocumented worker” is a tricky puzzle to solve. It has somehow come to be the standard terminology used by those in the immigration debate who want to respect and honor immigrants. You’ll find people who favor less restricted immigration using this screen, while those who want stricter immigration avoiding it. Perhaps the most significant analysis is the consequence of using the terministic screen “undocumented worker.” If you dig deep enough below the political jargon and complicated immigration laws, there is a movement from the situation to the person when one chooses the term “undocumented worker,” which greatly influences the immigration debate. If we focus on the person (the unfortunate undocumented worker trying to make a living), we identify their journey toward citizenship and respect their current and future status. If we focus on the situation (the daring illegal immigrant who broke laws to come here), we focus on the broken rule.

Will this in mind, we can begin to peel back the layers of what the terministic screen undocumented worker accurately reflects, selects, and deflects along with the consequences on the speaker and individual. The term undocumented worker actually reflects two things immediately: that the individual does not have proper documentation and they are currently employed or seeking employment. Keep in mind we are barely peeling back the thinest layers that protect the heart of the immigration debate. These aspects usually don’t strike the speaker or individual when they hear this phrase, it is revealed when one takes the first step to peel back the first layer. While undocumented worker accurately reflects these things, it also selects particular elements by nature of the screen. By choosing the word undocumented, we are choosing to look only at their documentation status. Do they have the proper paperwork to work legally in the states? Citizenship? A green card? By choosing the term worker, we also selectively analyze their employment status, looking directly into the context of their lives within of work. They are a worker — they are here to provide labor to an employer, that is their holistic identity. This leads us directly into what the terministic screen undocumented worker deflects, the most important category of the three, hidden deep under layers and layers of surface level analysis. It deflects the individuals life outside of employment, as well as their status beyond citizenship. What about their lives outside of work? Are they not also a father, a brother, a Christian? What about their documentation outside of the United States? By restricting their documentation status to the United States alone, it denies documentation for other countries. Technically these immigrants are not absolutely “undocumented,” but only for the country they are currently living in. And perhaps most significantly, and what those who oppose this terministic screen will point to, is that this phrase deflects the legality of the individual and situation. By choosing the word “undocumented” you are intentionally avoiding the fact that the person is in an illegal situation by residing in a country without proper documentation. Many of those who prefer “undocumented” agree that they are trying to lessen the legality of the situation, and instead choose to focus on the person instead of the situation. At the core of this terministic screen, beneath the layers and layers that present accurate reflection, selection and deflection, we reach a stark reality. The terminsitic screen undocumented worker, is an effort by the speaker to respect an individual who has been told that their presence in this country is illegal. It is an act of leveling between the speaker and the immigrant, a small ounce of respect in a sea of stereotypes that drown the immigration debate.

Terministic screens are a powerful rhetorical item in the toolbox of the knowledgeable speaker. Discerning between what will communicate your idea and persuade your audience best is the highest level of rhetorical insight. Therefore, using any terministic screen requires a sense of responsibility from the speaker at hand, an understanding that your words may greatly influence not only your audience, but the topic you are speaking about. In the immigration debate, you can not forget you are are debating about a person, who, at the core of the themselves, is a human being like you. Therefore, there are many different paths to choose, but it is up to the individual to discern what they which to communicate with their terminstic screen, remembering to be responsible with their language of choice.