Is It Really "an Invasion"?

By Jerry Kammer on August 21, 2015

Part four of four.
Read Part 1: The Immigration Language Wars.
Read Part 2: A Linguistic Bridge over Troubled Waters.
Read Part 3: The Backstory of the Vocabulary War.

In this final installment, we'll look at the use of "invasion" to describe the illegal influx across the southern border.

Some people think the term is a hostile hyperbole. They say it ignores the fact that the crossers are overwhelmingly strivers in search of economic opportunity. As University of Texas at El Paso anthropology professor Josiah Heyman stated the case: "Unauthorized migration is not an invasion in any meaningful sense of the word." Heyman observed that the influx doesn't involve an army, poses no danger to government at the state or federal level, receives support from employers and apartment owners, and provides widespread economic benefits.

I don't begrudge "invasion", especially when it is used by residents of the U.S. borderlands. Having heard its residents' pained expressions of anxiety and bewilderment at an incessant flow that often becomes a flood, I understand it.

So did the Mexican-American woman who was briefly interviewed for a 2011 story on Telemundo about a report from the Census Bureau that the Hispanic population had grown to more than 50 million. That represented an increase of 15 million during the previous decade and a growth rate of 43 percent during that period.

The woman told reporter Cristina Londono she was concerned that the sharp increase would mean that Americans will "think that we are invading their country." When Londono asked if she understood that concern, the woman smiled wanly and said, "Well, in some way, yes."

It was a rare moment on Spanish-language television. Normally Telemundo and its larger rival, Univision, make little room for such concerns. They frame illegal immigration as a morality tale in which the indocumentados struggle nobly against the bigotry and racism of U.S. society.

Univision anchorman Jorge Ramos is the foremost spokesman for this point of view, which he presents both on the air and in newspaper essays that are compiled into popular books. Reviewing one of those books for the Los Angeles Times, Sam Quinones noted that Ramos believes "that those favoring enforcement of border and immigration law are racists." Quinones bluntly rejected the claim. "This is tripe, an ad hominem attack by authors who can't face the nuances of the issue they've taken on," he wrote.

Quinones, the author of several strongly written and beautifully reported books on immigration from Mexico, added this: "Mexican immigrants are my heroes, but I believe that the laws and borders of my country should be firmly enforced. Our country has the right to let people in or not as we wish. There are decent, nonracist reasons for believing so."