President Obama, "Illegal Immigrants," and Misinformation

By Jerry Kammer, September 21, 2009

It was bound to be interesting when Univision anchorman Jorge Ramos, in an interview with President Obama that was broadcast Sunday on Univision, asked why the president had used the term "illegal immigrants" when discussing his health plan in a speech two weeks ago to a joint session of Congress. It was the president's statement that illegal immigrants would not be covered that provoked the infamous "You lied!" charge from South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson.

Ramos put his question this way: "Words are important. Why did you choose to use the language associated with those who criticize the immigrants?"

If the president stuck with the term, he would risk offending Ramos and others who say that "illegal immigrants" is an offensive term.

If the president backed off, he would be distancing himself from Sen. Chuck Schumer, chairman of the immigration subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee and one of Obama's most important allies in the effort to pass reform legislation, who has insisted on facing up to the reality of illegal immigrants.

Said Schumer, earlier this year, outlining his plan to get reform passed: "When we use phrases like 'undocumented workers' we convey a message to the American people that their government is not serious about combating illegal immigration, which the American people overwhelmingly oppose. If you don't think it's illegal you're not going to say it. I think it is illegal and wrong and we have to change it."

The president took option A, offering Ramos this explanation: "I was addressing misinformation by the other side . . . I was essentially quoting them. I was saying, 'For those of you who are saying that illegal immigrants are going to be covered under this plan,' I said that's not true. Right? So I am using their language because I was addressing the misinformation that they were providing."

The president also assured Ramos that he remains committed to getting a comprehensive reform bill passed.

"I am not backing off one minute from getting this done," he said. He noted that he has had his hands full with the economic crisis and the effort to pass health reform. "Immigration reform is going to be tough as well, but I think we can get it done."