“Kein Mensch ist Illegal”

I’ve been noticing graffiti and stickers bearing this slogan around town here in Dresden, and I did twenty seconds of web searching to figure out what it’s about. I had a half-understanding of this from just reading the text of the saying (“No person is illegal”), but it became clearer in that searching that this is a legitimate grassroots movement in Germany – and it’s spread to other countries as well. The notion is this: (1) Nationalist parties and groups are inherently xenophobic, fearing outsiders (“auslanders” in German, “Mexicans” in American English); (2) human beings, when the outsider label is applied, are treated as less than fully human (and somehow therefore less worthy of respect; but (3) all humans are welcome in humane societies, so we should reject nationalist ideology in favor of an accepting, humanistic principles. Think of it as the anti-Nazi campaign, or the “anti-the-south-will-rise-again” or “we-must-deport-all-immigrants” school of thought.

(Aside from this simple progression, consider also that labeling a human being as “an illegal” deprives them, in the mind of the speaker, of that person’s humanity. That person is now defined first by the act her or she has perpetrated (which is, at least in the United States, not a major offense) rather than by his or her status as human being.)

Any time when there is economic pressure and uncertainty, in groups blame out groups. They find scapegoats, as did Hitler in the 1930s when he came to power, and as have KKK-leaders when gaining adherents to their tribes. The scapegoats in the U.S. have, at various times, been people of African, Irish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, or Mexican and Hispanic descent. In Europe, they are North Africans, Turks, and Middle Easterners. So there are nationalist movements in both places to expel or otherwise subjugate the outsiders. This is a group, apparently, that rejects that solution, perhaps because they reject the premise on which the conclusion is based.

They are right to reject the conclusion, of course. Outsiders, as such, do not number such that they demand services (nor can such services be acquired in many cases, without proper paperwork) that will sink an economy. In fact, most modern countries’ economies are built on the backs, so to speak, of small-time outsiders working their way toward the inside. Moreover, in the U.S. in particular, produce prices (and many goods-and-services prices) are dependent on cheap labor. (The labor in question is probably far too cheap to provide living conditions demanded by human dignity). If this workforce were removed (e.g. by “forced” deportation), the costs of many basic foodstuffs would skyrocket.

Rather than looking at what’s broken in the American economic system, we often search misguidedly for the easy answers, finding an obvious but unsubstantiated target in auslanders, similar to modern neo-Nazi groups in Germany. The language across these two points of comparison is similar, and so too are their solutions to the problems they believe they’ve identified. The response from committed moderate groups in America should be the same: No person is illegal.

About Steve Capone

Writer hailing from Salt Lake City, Utah. Interdisciplinary teacher (read: generalist guiding inquiry) at an independent school. Adjunct instructor at a medium sized state school. Lover of learning. Favorite destination: Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, Germany. @CaponeTeaches on Twitter M.S. Philosophy (Univ. of Utah 2013) M.A. Humanities (Univ. of Chicago 2007) B.A. Philosophy & English (Washington & Jefferson College 2006
This entry was posted in 2015, Ethics, Political Commentary, Political Philosophy, Travelogue, Travelogue 2015 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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