The Codcast: Words matter in immigration debate

To say there’s a chasm as wide as the Rio Grande between both sides of the immigration debate would be an understatement. The conversation about compromise is a non-starter because neither side can even agree on what terms to use.

US Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling, in a recent sit-down with CommonWealth, acknowledged his office is ramping up identifying defendants by their nationalities if they are immigrants who commit a crime in the country. And Lelling said he refuses to call them undocumented, the term favored by immigrant advocates, because what they have done is illegal, much like carrying an illegal handgun, “not an undocumented handgun.”

“I think word choice is often a political statement,” Lelling said. “The term undocumented immigrant strikes me as a consciously politicized term. It’s a euphemism… So I don’t use the term undocumented immigrant where advocates in this area might. I say illegal immigrant because that strikes me as more literally correct.”

Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, a strident supporter of President Trump’s immigration policies, and Marion Davis of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), joined The Codcast for an impassioned discussion over the tensions of words in the hot-button debate.

“Human beings are not illegal,” said Davis, explaining that immigration advocates view the term as dehumanizing and offensive.

Hodgson said “of course” the people themselves are not illegal but said their actions are. He described them as “illegal aliens,” a term increasingly favored by the Trump administration. Hodgson said immigrants by definition are here legally, hence his choice of aliens.

It appears to be the phraseology the Department of Justice wants US Attorney press offices around the country to use when identifying foreign-born defendants who are in the country illegally. CNN recently ran a story based on an email they obtained showing the Justice Department has instructed press offices to use “undocumented aliens” in their press releases.

“The word ‘undocumented’ is not based in US code and should not be used to describe someone’s illegal presence in the country,” the email from Washington to all the offices said. It also said that even those who are in the country legally should be identified by their country of citizenship, not their residence.

Davis and Hodgson differed on the public perception of identifying someone by his or her nationality. Davis said it gives the false impression the country is being overrun by criminal immigrants, something she said studies show is far from the case.

But Hodgson said “it’s not something to celebrate” that immigrants who are here illegally commit crime at a smaller rate than US citizens.

“That’s a crime that would not have been committed” if they weren’t here at all, Hodgson said. Hodgson added that advocates should explain their reasoning to “angel moms and dads,” the term coined by conservatives and immigration opponents to describe families of victims of deadly crimes committed by an immigrant here illegally.

It’s another loaded term in the fevered debate with no end of words.



A legislative conference committee unveiled a compromise that could yield a tax on short-term rentals of as much as 17.5 percent. (State House News Service)

Margaret Monsell argues the Baker administration has dropped the ball on regulations. (CommonWealth)

It appears that lawmakers will once again fail to pass legislation this session restricting the use by drivers of hand-held cellphones, a measure state Rep. Byron Rushing has objected to because of concerns it could be used to racially profile drivers. (Boston Globe)

A Herald editorial applauds one bit of inaction on Beacon Hill: lawmakers’ failure to take up a proposal for a statewide ban on plastic bags.


A Globe editorial praises the idea of a memorial outside Faneuil Hall that depicts the slave trade in Boston but does not directly take a stand on calls to rename the building because its namesake and benefactor owned slaves. A Standard-Times editorial says changing the name of Faneuil Hall doesn’t feel right.

For the second time in three months, Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia left the country without notifying City Council leaders, this time for a trip to Portugal. Under the city’s charter, the council president serves as acting mayor when the chief executive is away or unable to carry out the office’s duties due to a medical condition. (Herald News)

An order of priests in Waltham is prepared to fight efforts by the city to take their 46-acre hilltop US headquarters by eminent domain to build a new high school. (Boston Globe)

A Daily Item editorial says the discovery of more than $2 million just sitting in accounts held by the town of Revere argues for towns to have strong managers rather than mayors.

Nonprofits gave $1.2 million more to Boston in payments-in-lieu-of-taxes, but once again fell far short of what the city wanted. (WBUR)

A Brockton man is suing the city in federal court, alleging that a parking control officer called him the n-word and falsely claimed he brandished a knife in a dispute over his use of a handicapped parking space. (The Enterprise)


President Trump said he’s willing to force a government shutdown if Congress doesn’t approve funding for a border wall. (New York Times)

New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger and Trump clash in their accounts of a recent meeting the two had, with Trump tweeting that they talked about “the vast amounts of Fake News being put out by the media,” while Sulzberger said he accepted the invitation in order to tell Trump how concerned he is about the president’s “deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric.” (New York Times)


Josh Zakim claims Secretary of State William Galvin isn’t doing nearly enough on election security. (CommonWealth)

Attorney General Maura Healey endorses Ayanna Pressley, making her the highest profile Massachusetts pol to get behind the Boston city councilor’s insurgent bid against US. Rep. Michael Capuano in the September Democratic primary. (MassLive)

A Globe editorial calls on the state to move its state primary back from September to the spring, something all three candidates for secretary of state endorse, but which has little traction on Beacon HIll because, says Galvin, the current schedule is helpful to incumbents.

State Sen. Barbara L’Italien, whose district does not include Lowell but who is hoping to represent the city by winning the open Third Congressional District seat, secured $16 million in funding for the community in the latest state budget. (Boston Globe)


Paul Hattis offers five takeaways on the Health Policy Commission’s initial review of the Beth Israel-Lahey Health merger. (CommonWealth)

Michael Wagner, the chief physician executive at Wellforce, says we can reduce health care costs by having more care delivered at community hospitals, by focusing on the 5 percent of patients who account for half of all health care spending, and by paying attention to social determinants of health. (Boston Globe)


Lyft is testing a subscription model, offering 30 rides a month for a flat fee. (CommonWealth)

James Aloisi and Jarred Johnson of Transit-Matters explore the nature of transportation equity, and why some communities don’t want transportation investments. (CommonWealth)

The Transportation Security Administration quietly launched an extensive surveillance system that tracks airline passengers not suspected of terrorist ties or appearing on watch lists. (Boston Globe)

California has begun construction of a $100 billion high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, but only about a third of the funding has been committed and it’s not clear  whether the controversial project will actually be completed. (New York Times)


In a pattern that seems to add insult and unfairness to literal injury, domestic violence victims often face skeptical judges in battles to retain custody of their children. (MassLive)

A new report on discrimination in state courts finds that minority and female judges are viewed by attorneys who appear before them as less capable than their white and male peers. (Boston Globe)


Clark Booth, a literary Renaissance man of local television and print news for more than five decades, died at age 79. (Boston Globe)