Advocates rebuff ‘dehumanizing phrase’ for the release of migrants by border authorities

Border Report

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The release of hundreds of migrant families who had crossed illegally into South Texas has prompted an outcry from migrant advocates about how these immigrants should be referred to in the media.

“The phrase ‘catch and release’ is an extremely dehumanizing phrase because it comes from fishing, and therefore it compares human beings to fish, to animals,” Efrén Olivares, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Border Report. “It is also a propagandistic phrase developed by anti-immigrant hardliners.”

Former U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan repeatedly used the phrase, and just before he left office he said during several interviews that if the Biden administration re-instates the policy that it would be disastrous for border security.

Former President Donald Trump on April 6, 2018 issued a memorandum Ending “Catch and Release” at the border. But Tuesday, President Joe Biden issued executive orders on immigration, which included a sentence revoking Trump’s “catch and release” memorandum.

Border Report has used the phrase this week in previous stories because of its citation in Biden’s executive orders.

But the phrase has long been part of the American lexicon. Olivares says it needs to go.

A couple of Latino journalists from National Public Radio — Maria Hinojosa and Jose Antonio Vargas — spoke about their displeasure with the phrase during an appearance on MSNBC.

“Jose and I, having not been born in this country, are not fish to be caught and released. We are human beings,” said Hinojosa, the anchor and executive producer of Latino USA on National Public Radio.

Dr. Richard Pineda, associate professor and chair of the Department of Communication at the University of Texas at El Paso, agrees with the argument that such phrases dehumanize.

“I think language is always important in policy discussions, largely because if we simplify language, it’s reductive and tends to oversimplify what can be complex policies,” he told Border Report. “If you simplify phrases or language related to policy issues, people are less likely to press and understand what’s at stake. Our immigration policing processes are not simple and shouldn’t be minimized to glib phrases like ‘catch and release.'”

Pineda recently wrote an opinion piece in the Dallas Morning News about the danger of using “comprehensive” to describe immigration reform.

“The word ‘comprehensive’ … should be exorcised from the rhetoric of immigration reform,” Pineda wrote. “First, it’s an inaccurate descriptor; no reform of policy will ever be comprehensive. Even substantial policy changes enacted now will likely need tweaking by the time the Biden prepares to leave the White House.”

To journalists, Pineda says they should not be afraid to question these phrases.

“Their words in print or on-air can stimulate discussion in the public sphere,” he said.

CBP officials have confirmed to Border Report that some migrants are being released under Title 8 — which means their cases met a standard for release into the interior. That includes families traveling with children, and those with special conditions, such as pregnancies. However healthy adult migrants not with children are being still expelled back into Mexico.

Those who are paroled into the United States sign a Notice to Appear (NTA) form promising they will show up for immigration court hearings, which will be scheduled at a later date. They supply their contact information with CBP officials and are allowed to travel north of the Border Patrol checkpoints.

Olivares says the best way to refer to these released migrants is to “simply say they are allowed to continue their immigration proceedings from the community.”

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