Illegal Immigrants Have Been Given a Bad Name

This also ran in the LA Daily News, Huffington Post and BrooWaha.

Rebranding is an All-American pastime. If necessity is the mother of invention – then bad press is the mother of re-invention . It’s not just Chevron, while having record profits on oil, trying to get the word out about conservation. Or Frito-Lay, whose non-recyclable chip bags decorate the sides of our nation’s highways, announcing its attempt at being eco friendly. Even Scientology has gotten a facelift with their social programs being embraced by Christian leaders. What’s next? A Uri Geller comeback? A new Imus show? Target being a hip place to find designer wears?With the right perspective – anything is possible.

There is a group of people who need an Extreme Makeover: Homeland Edition – illegal immigrants. Their press coverage is horrible. Antibiotic-resistant staph infections get better play in the media.

We have to redo their marketing strategy to give them better mass appeal.

The first problem is the word “illegal”. Americans don’t like things that are illegal – like illegal drugs, illegal abortions, illegal fireworks. Illegal we equate with immoral. You just can’t do something illegal and be a good person. Illegal is derogatory. Child pornography is illegal. Illegal is always bad.

Some presidential candidates want to use the term ‘undocumented’. That won’t work, either. It’s too bureaucratic. Too much paperwork. It reminds us of taxes. We hate filling out forms. “Paperless” rings of freedom. Documents give us paper cuts and headaches. It feels like asking a yes or no question and getting an encyclopedia for an answer. ‘Undocumented’ won’t do.

What have Americans always liked? Outlaws! Oh yeah, Jessie James is an outlaw. Butch Cassidy, Billy the Kid, Al Capone, John Dillinger, John Gotti – we love these guys. But call them ‘illegals’ and their luster fades. Naw, they’re outlaws. They didn’t play by the rules. They didn’t pay into social security. They blatantly defied federal law. And we love them for it. Outlaws are sexy. Still breaking the law – but with style!

Now the words ‘immigrants‘, ‘aliens’ and ‘workers’ aren’t going to fly with this image re-alignment. “That was the old Dole,” as Dole likes to say (mainly when they get sued). ‘Immigrant’ is too ‘huddled masses‘. Aliens are known for invading. As for ‘workers’ – it says union – it says ‘they’ll take your job’ – it says scabs. Scabs are bad even if you don’t like unions. Nix those words.

We have to get at why these folks are here. Depending on whom you ask there are 7 to 20 million them of in this country. Why? Who benefits from a unlimited work force that has no legal rights, recourse, or retirement plans? One or two people is a blue-collar crime – 20 million is a white-collar one! Of course we can’t call them ‘white-collar crime victims’ because Americans don’t understand it. Martha Stewart is a white-collar criminal and we still don’t get why. No they are casualties of lobbying! A couple of hand shakes and smoky rooms deals and voila! A couple of million people available for cheap labor.

So why don’t we call them ‘political outlaws‘? That would fit. It’s kind of engaging. But it sounds like they’re anarchists or Seventh Day Adventists or something equally as vexing.

We have to accentuate the positive. To work on a new image we must play up the remittance figures. Remittance, not to be confused with recidivism, is the sending of money to their countries of origin. According to a new survey , by Inter-American Dialogue, Mexican immigrants (legal and illegal) sent $24.25 billion home in 2006. Around half of the 100 million people in that country live below the poverty line. So it happens that this money sent back home is currently the most generous aid in existence to Mexico. So what do we have? Very poor people risking life and limb to help even poorer people! There’s a feel good story wrapped inside a heap of schmaltz. It’s just the kind of emotional connection you need in order to create brand loyalty.

Okay, for their public relations make over – illegal immigrants will now be thought of as outlaw philanthropists! Here’s their tagline: “Their leaders failed them. To take care of their families, they did what they had to do.”

See? Now they sound less like cockroaches and tapeworms and more like mammals.

It doesn’t decriminalize them – it re-humanizes them. And if we can be made to feel good about shopping at Wal-Mart, we can be made to feel concern for our fellow human beings…you know the ones cleaning Wal-Marts.

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