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Posted by on Mar. 23, 2013 at 10:42 AM
  • 10 Replies

It can hurt their feelings.

Comedians can be as offensive as they want, because they're comedians. Unlike news organizations or politicians, comedians don't have an obligation to serve a public or a citizenry. Their primary function is to entertain -- and sometimes that means turning a few people off.

Still, that doesn't mean that their words don't shape the way we think. That's why I want to take a moment to talk about how often the phrase "illegal immigrant" has been used in recent comedic bits, despite the fact that about half of American Latinos find the term offensive.

A number of comedians (including some I really love!), like Jimmy Fallon and Ricky Gervais, have used the term "illegal immigrant" as shorthand for immigrants without authorization, in recent weeks. Jimmy Fallon has used the term at least four times (five times if you count using it twice in one sentence) in the past couple of months in his opening monologue.

Here's the rundown:

On January 15th, he joked: "The president will push for a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. Obama says it's all part of his plan to give every man, woman, and child the chance to pay more taxes."

On January 31st he said, "A bipartisan group of senators has unveiled a plan that would create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Or as immigrants call that, 'a tunnel.'"

On March 1st he used the following joke in his opening monologue: "New spending cuts allowed 300 illegal immigrants to be released from jail in Arizona. Or as officials put it, 'Catch ya later.'"

And on March 19th, he opened with, "Today Kentucky Senator Rand Paul announced that he supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, or as illegal immigrants put it 'Who do you think is gonna build that path?"

It's not just Fallon, though.

Last month, on Valentine's Day, Ricky Gervais tweeted "Guys, show how much you love you [sic] wife tonight in the restaurant by buying a dead rose from the illegal immigrant who pops in." The tweet, which went out to over 4 million Twitter followers, got thousands of retweets, but was soon deleted. Latino Rebels blog was none too happy, and tweeted, "Dear @rickygervais we captured your original "illegal immigrant" tweet. Why did you delete it from your stream?" They never got a response.

I've never really wanted to play the role of humor police. But to me, it doesn't seem "illegal immigrant" is being used deliberately in the place of other phrases like "unauthorized immigrants" or "undocumented immigrants" in the aforementioned instances. Rather, it seems Fallon and friends simply don't know -- they don't know that the term is off-putting to many people because it demeans and dehumanizes. Whereas comedians like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart ironically use phrases like "the illegals" and "illegal aliens" to satirize the Republican party's stance on immigration, Fallon's use of "illegal immigrant" in context doesn't seem to be satire, but only part of a setup for his punchlines.

This is why I conclude that, maybe Fallon's writers room just doesn't know. Maybe they don't know that a coalition of linguists have come out against the word because it is neither neutral nor accurate. Or perhaps they haven't heard of the growing Drop The I-Word campaign, hosted by the ColorLines blog, and championed by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jose Antonio Vargas.

In recent years, many journalists, linguists, politicians,and activists have stood up against the term, vowing to ensure that their own outlets stop using it.

Last year, we wrote about how major news outlets, including CNN, NBC News (the same station which airs Fallon's show), ABC, Univision, Fox News Latino, and the Huffington Post, among others, have vowed to drop the term due to its demeaning undertones. We have also written about how many of the newsrooms that still use the term (like the Associated Press and the New York Times) lack Hi ic leadership and/or newsroom diversity. We've too have written about how most of the nation's top college newspapers have banned the term 'illegal immigrant' from their pages.

Still, the word has persisted in the realm of comedy, especially on Fallon's show. It's hard for me to imagine that if half of Caucasian Americans were offended by the phrase that it would still be used casually by mainstream media outlets and comedians on popular late night talk shows.

So, Jimmy Fallon, I love you, but please -- drop the term?

by on Mar. 23, 2013 at 10:42 AM
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by Platinum Member on Mar. 23, 2013 at 10:42 AM
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Sorry, but that is what they are.

Immigrants who are here illegally.

by on Mar. 23, 2013 at 10:44 AM
If a "Latino" found that term offensive, they probably are an illegal. I am Mexican-American, and I don't find it offensive at all. Why? Because I am an American, born and raised.
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by on Mar. 23, 2013 at 10:48 AM
1 mom liked this
But they are here illegally. It's not offensive, it's a fact.
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by Platinum Member on Mar. 23, 2013 at 11:00 AM
1 mom liked this
I thought it was the correction of the really offensive term "illegal alien". Some people need to remember that not everyone checks the new forbidden word lists before making a joke. Get over yourself
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by Member on Mar. 23, 2013 at 11:04 AM
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That's what they are... what the supposed to be called "not here the correct way people"
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by Platinum Member on Mar. 23, 2013 at 11:20 AM
2 moms liked this

If they've crossed the border, "immigrated", without the proper paperwork or authorization, they have done so illegally, hence the term, illegal immigrant. In pretty much any other country, they would be jailed indefinitly if not worse. Here they complain that the term demeans them and so shouldn't be used in speaking, writing or at all. I, for one, am really tired of all this politcally correct garbage that demands that words and phrases be struck from speech and writing right down to "correcting" them in works of literature because some person or group finds it offensive. Don't want to be termed an illegal immigrant, don't sneak across a border illegally. Don't ever want to be offended by anything, stay in your (general your) own home; don't talk to anyone else and don't allow anyone else or any type of communication, ie: t.v.; computers; movies, etc. etc. into your home. If you (general you) are unwilling to do that, face the fact that sometimes you will feel offended by the actions of others, as well as by words and phrases either spoken or written.....get over it, grow up and realize that this country, let alone the world, does not revolve around your (general your) delicate sensibilities.

by on Mar. 23, 2013 at 11:24 AM
1 mom liked this
This is the most ridiculous thing I have read today. They are immigrants that are here illegally. The term is completely accurate. Don't want to be called an illegal immigrant? Come here legally.
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by Ruby Member on Mar. 23, 2013 at 12:01 PM
1 mom liked this

Really who was offended by the phrase"illegal immigrant"?  The phrase was used as a way to attack anyone who opposes the liberal agenda.  It rules and punishments for who uses the term will be applied selectively by liberals.  

by on Mar. 23, 2013 at 12:03 PM
1 mom liked this

I'm all for human rights and decency, but let's call a spade a spade. Using a PC term to refer to people who are illegally residing in our country is inaccurate.

by AllieCat on Mar. 23, 2013 at 12:04 PM
1 mom liked this

Meh, those who are here illegally are indeed illegal immigrants.

I am quite sure many attach a negativity to that term.  But that does not negate the truth of the term.

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