Tag Archives: immigrants

A Tsunami of Immigrants?

The contentious topic of immigration has been in the news the past few weeks.  The Trump administration allegedly directed two government agencies – DSH, the Department of Homeland Security, and ICE – Immigration and Customs Enforcement – to separate children from their parents at several different border checkpoints in Texas.  Public outcry has led to policy changes and the reunification of most of these families.  However, the crisis highlighted years of discrimination against immigrants going back to the founding of this country.  This sort of discrimination against immigrants has been alive and well in Europe for hundreds of years as well.

Clues of this type of discrimination can be found in the metaphors used to describe immigrants.  While many are neutral terms, others are clearly negative in their connotations. A few years ago, the blogger David Shariatmadari wrote a nice article entitled “Swarms, floods and marauders: the toxic metaphors of the migration debate” on how negative metaphors in England are used against immigrants using such terms as swarms or floods of migrants or describing them as marauders.  Also, a recent article in the Atlantic by Franklin Foer describes “How ICE Went Rogue,” detailing how ICE agents have become increasingly aggressive in arresting and deporting immigrants regardless of their legal or illegal immigration status. Formerly, ICE agents were restricted by government policies as to whom they could arrest.  After Donald Trump became president, ICE officials claimed that their handcuffs were removed.

I have discussed metaphors of immigration in past blog posts but I thought it was time to take a fresh look.  I originally thought that most immigration metaphors were negative, such as those listed above, but recently I have found examples of neutral metaphors, i.e., those that simply describe immigrants or immigration issues without negative connotations. What follows is a short list of metaphors from several different concepts including war, insects, animals, nature, rivers and oceans.  For clarity, I indicate whether each type of metaphor is neutral or negative.  I include examples from recent news articles with links to each source.  Some examples are excerpts from articles; others are merely headlines.  Italics are mine.

 

War/Military Operations – Negative

I found a few examples of metaphors from wars or military operations to describe immigrants. In addition to the marauder example mentioned earlier, I found evidence of politicians describing their countries as being under siege, under attack or being on the front lines of the battle with immigrants.

under siege

Example:  “British towns are being ‘swamped’ by immigrants, and their residents are ‘under siege’, Michael Fallon, the UK defence secretary, said on Sunday.” (source: The Financial Times)

under attack

Example:  “Trump Uses Language of Exterminators in Attack on ‘Illegal Immigrants’” (source: New Yorker Magazine)

front lines

Example:  “A town at the front lines of the migrant crisis: ‘We can’t let them die’” (source: the Los Angeles Times)

 

Insects and Animals – Negative

Sadly, large groups of immigrants coming into a country are often compared to bothersome insects or animals.  Donald Trump recently compared immigrants to animals that were infestingour country.  I include his tweet below along with a stunning criticism of this language usage by blogger Josh Marshall.  I also include examples of swarminginsects and stampeding cattle as suggested by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Finally, I include the controversial example of Donald Trump calling some immigrants animals.  In his defense, he was referring to the violent MS-13 gang members, not all immigrants. 

infest

Example:  “Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!” (source: New Yorker Magazine)

“Josh Marshall makes the unavoidable historical connection:

‘The use of the word ‘infest’ to talk about people is literally out of the Nazi/anti-Semites’ playbook for talking about the Jewish threat. It was also a standard for talking about Chinese in the western United States and it remains part of the vocabulary for talking about Romani (Gypsies) in parts of Europe. This is the most hard-boiled kind of racist demagogic language, the kind that in other parts of the world has often preceded and signaled the onset of exterminationist violence. The verb ‘to infest’ is one generally used to describe insects or vermin (rats), creatures which are literally exterminated when they become present in a house or building or neighborhood.'”

swarm

Example:  “David Cameron criticised over migrant ‘swarm’ language” (source:  BBC)

animals

Example:  “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.” (source: New York Times)

stampede

Example:  “We are not going to let this country be overwhelmed,” Sessions told the press at a Wednesday news conference. “People are not going [to] caravan or otherwise stampede our border. We need legality and integrity in the system. People should wait their turn, ask to apply lawfully before they enter our country. So we’re sending a message worldwide.” (Source: Newsweek)

 

Nature – Neutral

It is very common to use our experiences with nature to describe abstract processes. With immigration issues, I found many examples of metaphors based on trees and erosion of hills to describe these issues, including problems that have a root cause or are deep rooted, grassroots opposition to the Trump administration’s immigration policies, the erosion of national security or the danger of going down a slippery slope to beginning to take away civil rights of Americans.

deep rooted

Example:  “There are an estimated 11m-12m immigrants living in the United States illegally, most of them Latino. Many have families, jobs and property, and far deeper roots in America than in their countries of origin.” (source: The Economist)

grassroots

Example:  “From ‘angry grandmas’ to lemonade stands: How grass-roots groups stepped in to help separated families” (source: CNN)

root cause

Example:  “Letter: To curb illegal immigration, find the root cause” (source: The Chicago Tribune)

erode

Example:  “President Donald Trump’s recent tweets against open borders come as no surprise. Indeed, even fervent immigration advocates worry that open borders would lower the wages of low-skilled natives, erode national security, and overburden the social safety net.” (source: USA Today)

slippery slope

Example:  “The slippery slope of the Trump administration’s political embrace of calling MS-13 ‘animals’” (source:  The Washington Post)

 

Nature – Negative

There are also a few examples of metaphors of nature with negative connotations.  Since some immigrants come into countries illegally, they often hide from authorities and can be described as living in the shadows. The difficult social and economic problems of immigration are sometimes called thorny issues while these immigration issues can be compared to a swamp or quagmire.   Sadly, movements of immigrants into a country may be compared to a natural disaster such as an avalanche.

shadows

Example:  “Illustrations tell story of family ‘living in the shadows’ because of illegal immigration” (source:  West Palm Beach TV)

thorny

Example:  “The Thorny Economics of Illegal Immigration” (source: The Wall Street Journal)

quagmire

Example:  “Republicans caught in immigration quagmire” (source:  USimmigration.com)

avalanche

Example:  “Spain set for ‘avalanche’ of African immigrants” (source: The Local)

 

 

 

Rivers and Oceans – Neutral

Movement of people is often compared to the movement of water in rivers or oceans.  These metaphors can be both neutral or negative in their connotations.  A few neutral metaphors include having a wave, tide or steady stream of immigrants.  The word influx is of Latin origin meaning “flowing in.”  Thus we also find an influx of immigrants in news articles. We can also see a ripple effect of one event influencing another.  In this case, we see the ripple effect of immigration policies on the lives of immigrants.

wave

Example:  “The United States experienced major waves of immigration during the colonial era, the first part of the 19th century and from the 1880s to 1920.” (source: history.com)

tide

Example:  “The Deadly Cost of Turning Back the Immigration Tide” (source: the Daily Beast)

steady stream

Example:  “Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas economists estimate that immigrants and their children comprised more than half of the US workforce growth in the last 20 years and expect this group to make up an even larger percentage over the next 20 years. And, according to Pew Research Center, without a steady stream of a total of 18 million immigrants between now and 2035, the share of the US working-age population could decrease to 166 million.” (source: CNN)

influx

Example:  “Illegal Immigration Influx Continues — 50,000 Attempt Border Crossing for Second Straight Month” (source: townhall.com)

ripple effect

Example:  “The deadly ripple effect of harsh immigration policies” (source: open democracy.net)

Rivers and Oceans – Negative

We can also find examples of water movement metaphors with a negative connotation.  As we saw with an avalanche of immigrants, some metaphors compare immigrant movements to natural disasters, this time caused by rivers or oceans.   Thus, we can find examples of politicians trying to stem the flow of immigrants, being swamped or flooded by immigrants.  In an extreme example, we can also talk about a tsunami of immigrants as if they are causing great damage and destruction.

stem the flow

Example:  “TRUMP’S WALL ISN’T GOING TO STEM THE FLOW OF UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS” (source: Newsweek)

swamped

Example:  “British towns are being “swamped” by immigrants, and their residents are “under siege”, Michael Fallon, the UK defence secretary, said on Sunday.” (source: The Financial Times)

flood

Example:  “Myth No. 1: Undocumented immigrants are flooding into the United States”  (source: The Washington Post)

tsunami

Example:  “Immigration crisis: Official: ‘A tsunami of people crossing the border’” (source: Fox News)

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The obvious question is why people have such negative attitudes towards immigrants. In the United States, everyone except Native Americans is an immigrant.  And yet some politicians, themselves with immigrant backgrounds, set policies restricting movement of immigrants into the country.  The usual explanation is that these immigrants are coming into the country illegally whereas their ancestors came legally. However, most immigrants would come legally if the laws were not so restrictive.  Almost all migrants go to another country to escape persecution, economic crisis or to create a better life for themselves and their children. My own Irish ancestors came to the United States after the potato famine in Ireland during which thousands of people died from starvation.  Many modern immigrants coming into the United States are escaping wars in Central America while those going into Europe and the United Kingdom are escaping brutal conflicts in the Middle East.  Who can blame them for trying to survive? I would hope that modern governments accept immigrants into their countries with the same compassion and understanding that was extended to our ancestors.

 

More Metaphors on Immigration

Hello!  Sorry for my delayed posts the past couple weeks.  This is the end of the quarter at my college.  I have been swamped with lesson plans and committee meetings, mired in tests and grading and behind on my paperwork.  I have also been trying to keep up with my family obligations and stay on top of paying bills and other household chores. — Isn’t it amazing how many metaphors we use in every day speech?

Back to the blog, I would like to offer a belated analysis of President Obama’s speech on immigration a few weeks ago.  At first glance, it may seem that there were not many political metaphors in the speech.  However, there were quite a few metaphors that reveal how politicians – and most Americans – think about immigration issues and government policies in general.  All of the quotations today are from the speech itself.  Italics are mine.  You can read the entire speech here at:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/11/20/remarks-president-address-nation-immigration

Containers/Light and Dark

President Obama took pains to describe how immigrants felt if they did not yet have green cards or their citizenship.  Whether or not they came here illegally or had been born to illegal immigrant parents, these immigrants were described as being locked in containers or trapped in cages.  Here are a few examples:

blog - immigration - Lobster_traptrap

In a common hunting metaphor, one way to capture and kill a wild animal is to set a trap for it.  A person can leave a trap baited with food, and when the animal enters the cage to eat the food, the animal is trapped.  In common terms, when someone is caught in a trap, he or she is not able to exit from a situation. In terms of the immigration debate, President Obama refers to immigrants not being trapped by their past, but who can create a new future for themselves. The implication is that illegal immigrants in the U.S. today are indeed trapped by their circumstances.

Example:  “For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities – people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose.”

come out

            When a container is filled with solid or liquid materials, it is a common experience to see these materials coming out of the container when it is used. To say something or someone is coming out, it indicates that it or they are being released from a confining situation.

Example: “…students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcome out of the shadows

A shadow is caused by something or someone blocking sunlight. In English the word shadow can have two meanings.  For one, someone in another person’s shadow is trying to be as good as that person who came before him or her.  Secondly, someone working in the shadows is thought to be doing something bad or illegal.  To say that someone is coming out of the shadows implies the person has been doing something immoral or illegal.  President Obama used this expression in several different ways.

Example: In describing the immigration activist Astrid Silva,  “…she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported.”

Example: “And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows…”

Example:  After describing the benefits of his new executive order:  “…you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation.  You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

Clothing

            Social situations are sometimes described metaphorically as fabric as if they are part of a piece of cloth.  While fabric can be used as clothing which can be a strong, protective covering, it can also be something that is weak and can be torn or ripped apart.  Metaphorically we see all of these conditions described in political situations.

fabric

Clothing is made out of material or fabric.  The concept of fabric can also be used to describe something very broad that is held together by many threads running in different directions.

Example:  “I know that some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are, or take our jobs, or stick it to middle-class families at a time when they already feel like they’ve gotten the raw end of the deal for over a decade.”

blog - immigration - ripped jeanstear apart

Example:  “And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.”

 

ripping children from their parents

Example:  “Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms?  Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?”

Houses and Machines

build

We commonly describe the creation of something abstract as if it is something physical we are building.  This usage can apply literally to buildings, machines or any physical object, while metaphorically the verb to build can apply to any abstract process or social relationship.

Example:  “First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over.”  [Note the use of the river metaphor here stem the flow, discussed in an earlier post.]

blog - immigration - broken pistonbroken

Fragile objects and machines can be described as broken if they are no longer intact or do not function properly.  Once a machine is broken, someone must make the effort to fix it.  President Obama described our immigration program as being broken and needing to be fixed.

Example:  “But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.”

 

fix 

Example:  “When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system.”

Example:  “I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate.” 

Games and Rules

blog - immigration - play by the rulesplay by the rules

Whenever a game is played, the participants must agree to set of rules to avoid arguments and controversies during the game.  Anyone who cheats or does not follow the rules is not respected and usually not asked to play the game after that point.  In politics, candidates, government officials and businesses must play by the rules of their particular state or government with respect for the other people involved.  In discussions of immigration, people from other countries must play by the rules in order to obtain citizenship.

Example:  “Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules.”

blog - immigration - straight lineright/straight

            Just as in the concept of playing by the rules in a game, we can also describe being right or straight in one’s behavior.  This common metaphor is derived from our experiences with shapes and lines.  When a line is drawn directly from one point to another, we say that the line is straight.  Describing something that is straight implies that it is true, clear and direct.  The word right also has its origins in describing a straight line.  President Obama often referred to proper behavior by illegal immigrants is by being straight or right with the law while referring to honest behavior as simply being straight as well.

Example:  “And let’s be honest – tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you.”

Example:  “You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

Example:  “Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law?”

Journeys

pathway to citizenship

A path is a small, narrow road.  Metaphorically, we speak of a path as being a process or a way to achieve a goal.  There is also a similar term pathway that is yet another word indicating a manner of doing something.  The process of becoming an American citizen is often described as being a pathway to citizenship.

Example:   “I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate. It wasn’t perfect. It was a compromise, but it reflected common sense. It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents, while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line.”

blog - immigration - Pathway_at_Udayagiri_Park

In summary, even though there were not many metaphors in President Obama’s speech on immigration, there were a few examples that reveal how we think about these important issues. Most of us know that illegal immigrants are living in the shadows while liberals and conservatives seem to disagree on whether or not they should come out of the shadows and become citizens or if they should be deported. We also compare our immigration system to a broken machine that needs to be fixed as if it is an old car engine.  But to fix this machine the immigrants must play by the rules as if it is a football game, and be right with the law as if they are walking on a straight line.  If the immigrants succeed they can be on a pathway or journey to becoming American citizens.

Most of us believe that immigrants, whether legal or illegal, add a valuable amount of diversity and hard work to the fabric of our economy and our society.  My own ancestors come from Ireland, France and Sweden.  I think most of us – unless we are Native Americans – can trace our heritage back to other countries.  Let us celebrate our diversity!

Next time:  Metaphors of Physical Forces in Economics

Do Metaphors Matter? Part 2 – Immigrants

For the second part of my investigation into the importance of metaphors, I did some research on whether or not immigrants or naturalized citizens understand metaphors.  If not, I then wondered if this lack of English proficiency would prevent them from participating in American politics.  Please let me know what you think!  Do you know any immigrants who like to read or watch TV about politics but do not understand the conversation because of the metaphors?

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As for my second question, I wondered if non-native speakers of English can understand these metaphors. A considerable amount of research has shown that native speakers can understand metaphors as quickly and easily as literal statements (Gibbs, 1993; Gibbs, 1994; Glucksberg and Keysar, 1993; and Ortony, 1993b).  However, in my own experience teaching ESL for almost 30 years, idioms and metaphors are the most difficult English expressions for ESL students to learn.  Even immigrants who have lived in the United States for years have trouble understanding figurative language in everyday English.

For the final question, we consider how immigrants or naturalized citizens participate in the American political process.  According to the 2010 census 12.8% of the U.S. population is foreign-born (http://quickfacts.census.gov/ qfd/states/00000.html) amounting to approximately 40 million people.  Moreover, 20.3% of the population has a language other than English spoken at home.  These statistics beg the question if these immigrants are registered voters, if they vote, or even if they watch television news broadcasts about local or national elections in English or their native languages.

S. Karthick Ramakrishnan completed a thorough study of these issues in his book, Democracy in Immigrant America: Changing Demographics and Political Participation (2005).  He found that immigrants who became naturalized citizens had higher levels of participation in politics because of their commitment to living in the United States and the education needed to pass the citizenship exam (p. 78). He found that the strongest predictors of participation are age, education, marital status, residential stability and English proficiency (p. 81).

Ramakrishnan found that language barriers prevented access to the political process in many different ways.  For example, only those with English proficiency would participate in “writing to elected officials, signing ballot petitions and contributing money to political causes” (p. 159).  Ramakrishnan (p. 8) concluded that political participation was “integral to the mission of securing an economic foothold in the United States” and “to secure a better life…for themselves and their children.”

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Do you agree that the lack of understanding of metaphors can hinder immigrants from participating in politics in their local communities or at the national level?

Next time:  Back on track with metaphor analyses.