“The international community calling an immigrant that has exceeded his/her legitimate period of stay as an ‘illegal alien’ stigmatizes their illegal being. Therefore it has been suggested that they should be referred to as ‘unregistered’ or ‘non-regular’ instead. No human existence can be ‘illegal.’ (“1,500 Days with Migrant Workers from Cambodia,” written by Woo Choon-hee)
As a sociolinguist, I think about the words used in our everyday lives and occupy our thinking unconsciously. Recently the word ‘illegal’ has been brought to my attention. People may ask why they would be suspicious about the word ‘illegal. It was then that I encountered the excerpt above. I wondered why I had not been suspicious of the word ‘illegal alien’ as a sociolinguist.
Recently I received a notice that I had violated a traffic law. I had exceeded the speed limit driving absent-mindedly near a school zone. A traffic law violation that I had not been even aware of- does that make me an illegal driver? If so, the following sentence would also be true: “Korean roads are full of illegal drivers.” However, we do not use the term ‘illegal driver.’ Author Woo Chun-hee pointed this out. Exceeding the legitimate period of stay violates the administrative process; it is not a criminal offense. Nonetheless, we stigmatize unregistered immigrants as ‘illegal.’ The book “Perilla Leaf Battle” depicts the hell-like experience of migrant workers in Korea. The everyday life of migrant workers equivalent to slavery tells us something we had not been aware of- no person’s existence is considered illegal. Migrant workers, whether they are registered or not, have become part of our society. It is now time to envision a larger and more engaging community.