ILW.COM - the immigration portal Immigration Daily

Home Page

Immigration Daily


Processing times

Immigration forms

Discussion board



Twitter feed

Immigrant Nation


CLE Workshops

Immigration books

Advertise on ILW

VIP Network




Connect to us

Make us Homepage



The leading
immigration law
publisher - over
50000 pages of
free information!
© 1995-
Immigration LLC.

View RSS Feed

Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Negative Judicial Metaphors Harm Immigrants

Rate this Entry

A recent article in the Fordham Law Review posits that negative metaphors used by judges to describe immigrants contribute to negative public perceptions of immigrants and lead to adverse judicial decisions. 

Before now, I never metaphor that I didn't like.

In Alien Language: Immigration Metaphors and the Jurisprudence of Otherness, Keith Cunningham-Parmeter discusses different metaphors used in judicial decisions related to immigration.  The most common metaphors can be classified into three categories: (1) Immigrants are aliens; (2) Immigrants are a flood; and (3) Immigrants are invaders.  Each of these metaphors carries negative associations-for example, floods cause us to drown; invaders try to kill us.  Employing these metaphors, writes Mr. Cunningham-Parmeter, affects how we think about immigrants, which in turn affects judicial decisions.

One set of figures cited in the article struck me as particularly noteworthy--In examining 4,200 federal cases related to immigration, Mr. Cunningham-Parmeter found that the phrase most commonly used to describe immigrants was "illegal alien:"

"[I]llegal alien" was "by far the most common term, appearing in 69% of opinions (2905 cases).  No other term appeared in more than 10% of opinions, except "undocumented alien," which accounted for 16% of the results in 670 cases.  

It seems likely that the overwhelming use of negative metaphors for immigrants would impact how judges think about people who are in the U.S. illegally.  This, of course, could result in more adverse decisions.  

To counter these negative metaphors, Mr. Cunningham-Parmeter proposes some positive metaphors; words that connote entrepreneurial economic migrants (i.e., people with the get-up-and-go necessary to cross borders and start new, productive lives):

[M]igrants are neither criminals nor invaders, but instead people who cross international borders in order to survive.  As such, the economic sanctuary metaphor brings focus to the human consequence of globalization.

I certainly appreciate the effort to de-stigmatize immigrants (and in writing this blog post, I find myself avoiding the term "alien," a term of art defined in the INA, but also a metaphor with negative connotations).  In the end, though, I am skeptical that we can replace existing metaphors with something more benign.  There is a tribal aspect to these metaphors that is deeply ingrained.  We do tend to view outsiders as "invaders" and as a threat.  Maybe that is just the way of human nature.  Or, hopefully, I am wrong, and Mr. Cunningham-Parmeter's article will help plant a seed that will lead to a more positive--and constructive--view of people who immigrate to the United States.

Originally posted on the Asylumist:

Submit "Negative Judicial Metaphors Harm Immigrants" to Facebook Submit "Negative Judicial Metaphors Harm Immigrants" to Twitter Submit "Negative Judicial Metaphors Harm Immigrants" to Google Submit "Negative Judicial Metaphors Harm Immigrants" to StumbleUpon Submit "Negative Judicial Metaphors Harm Immigrants" to Reddit Submit "Negative Judicial Metaphors Harm Immigrants" to Digg Submit "Negative Judicial Metaphors Harm Immigrants" to

Tags: None Add / Edit Tags


Put Free Immigration Law Headlines On Your Website

Immigration Daily: the news source for legal professionals. Free! Join 35000+ readers Enter your email address here: