Hear ye, hear ye. Let it henceforth be known that the honorable members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus do not sanction the word “illegals.” They prefer the term “undocumented.”
For my part, I never use “illegals” as a noun, and I often use “undocumented.” Not because it’s politically correct, but, because in the context of some sentences, it seems grammatically correct. Still, I also use another phrase the language police on the left find troubling: “illegal immigrant.”
What is really troubling is that all 26 members of the caucus – who collect an annual salary of $174,000 to work an average of 137 legislative days – don’t fight more important battles. It’s also telling that they’re all Democrats because Republicans aren’t welcome, and it’s a problem that the members appear to think their chief duty isn’t to serve Hispanics but to protect the Democratic Party.
We know about the language preference because of what was apparently a disastrous meeting between Hispanic lawmakers and NBC News President Deborah Turness. From what I’ve read, the crayon box of this top executive at the peacock network is short a few colors. And she likely flunked “Hispanics 101.”
The meeting came about because lawmakers were upset that, a few weeks ago, Donald Trump hosted NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” The stunt made for good ratings, but it still wasn’t a good choice. Leadership requires uniting people, and Trump is all about dividing them. His opportunistic demagoguery isn’t just reserved for Hispanics any more.
For instance, Muslim Americans don’t seem all that amused by his toying with the Big Brotherish idea of placing their names and addresses in a government-run registry. A reporter asked about the concept, but Trump made it his own.
And, in an outburst that should outright disqualify him from the presidency, Trump even dredged up moldy “truther” conspiracies and split Americans between those who think that George W. Bush protected the country after the horrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, and those who think that Bush & Co. knew about the attacks beforehand and did nothing to stop them.
During Watergate, former White House counsel John Dean famously described the cover-up as a “cancer on the presidency.” Well, Trump’s candidacy is a cancer in pursuit of the presidency.
Meanwhile, take it from someone who has been offering analysis and commentary on national television for 20 years: Turness is hardly alone in her ignorance. The presidents of the news divisions at most of the networks seem to live in a black-and-white world, and more often a white-and-white world. Hispanics are an afterthought – if we’re lucky. We’re invited on to talk about immigration. But when the topic is education, Syrian refugees or policing and public safety, the bookers usually call someone else.
What got Turness in hot water during the meeting, though, was her poor choice of words and the fact that – as is so often the case both with elected officials and those who cover them in the media – her ignorance came with a side order of arrogance. Not a good combination.
First, according to Politico, Turness used “illegals” as a noun when discussing a story the network did about Pope Francis comforting a young girl who was afraid that her parents might be deported because they’re “illegals.”
“I’m going to stop you right there,” interrupted Rep. Juan Vargas of California. “We use the term ‘undocumented immigrants.’ ”
How sanctimonious. You mean, as in: We’re the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and we care so little for the “undocumented” that we didn’t make a peep when President Barack Obama – the leader of our party – deported record numbers of them?
When the lawmakers tried to get Trump bounced from “SNL” and were ignored, they revealed they have no power. Now we know they have lost perspective.
Turness apologized for using “illegals.” But then she committed an even more egregious error in trying to feign familiarity by speaking a few words of broken Spanish.
“We love the Hispanic community,” Turness said. “Yo hablo Español.”
For Hispanics, this kind of condescension is like fingernails on a chalkboard. According to Politico, it didn’t go over well with the lawmakers. Several left the meeting in a huff.
Who could blame them? No doubt they have a lot of work to do – continuing to carry water for the White House and ignore the plight of the “undocumented.”
Ruben Navarrette Jr., formerly of Sanger, is a columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.