Saturday, January 12, 2008

“No woman is illegal,” Hillary Clinton declared Thursday to campaign-rally attendees after a man said his wife is an illegal alien. The applause followed. Thus does Mrs. Clinton put her own twist on a very common immigration dodge: pretending that when critics of the Bush-Kennedy open-borders philosophy use the term “illegal alien,” they refer not merely to matters of immigration status, but to some innate human characteristic. To hear this classically impassioned campaign nonsequitur issue from the same candidate who cared so deeply that she flip-flopped on drivers licenses for illegals two months ago was rich. But so is its etymology, which is interesting in its own right.

In its pre-Hillary incarnation, a very similar phrase first surfaced widely three years ago thanks to Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney, who said, “No person is illegal” to parishioners in 2004 amid a denunciation of a state bill to secure drivers’ licenses. Cardinal Mahoney’s imprimatur, which lent a stamp of Catholic social-justice approval in many eyes, gave the phrase resonance beyond what mere partisans and hardcore activists could provide.

It caught on. The phrase shows up in graffiti on sidewalks, on banners in protests — anywhere open-borders enthusiasts need to denounce tighter U.S. immigration enforcement. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, has squeaked it time and again on the campaign trail. “No person is illegal,”shout Arizona protesters angry at members of the state’s very active border-security movement.

Of course, Hillary’s variant also has other important overtones. The most significant ones harken back to the abortion battles of the 1960s and 1970s, when “Keep abortion legal” issued from the mouths of many of the same voters Mrs. Clinton now courts.

The slogan may subtly accomplish one of Mrs. Clinton’s most important campaign tasks: aligning herself as closely as possible with the history of women’s rights in America. To do this, she must continually find ways to remind voters that, as the first serious female presidential contender in American history, she is different.

This will entail theatrics, of which the phrase is a part. But as a nonsequitur and a dodge, it is both true — no person is inherently “illegal,” just their immigration status — and meaningless in the context. No border-enforcement activist believes that a “person” is innately illegal.

Via this nonsequitur, and by imputing meanness or hatred, “No woman is illegal” and “No person is illegal” help open-borders, pro-amnesty politicians evade an honest consideration of the nation’s illegal-immigration conundrum. Don’t be fooled.

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