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I grew up in a time when people of color were given numerous labels and called horrific names. Then, as it is now, referring to a group of people in this negative way was far too common in our speech. As an elected official, I, along with my colleagues, feel enough is enough. So we have decided to be an example of civility and compassion. America is and has always been a country of immigrants, so it is unacceptable to just now start referring to the status of immigrants as “an illegal.” For some time now, we have begun to accept the rampant misuse of the term “illegal” when referring to people seeking to make America their home.

I worked though my youth into the present to fight against all of those negative labels. Because of this, I cannot stand aside while other groups are marginalized by the labels placed on them by others, so I am joining with them to prevent such atrocities from continuing.

I joined with my colleagues during my terms in the 111th and 112th Congresses when I saw that our broken immigration system was separating families through deportations. These very people who sought safe harbor from the dangers of persecution or genocide were being torn from their newfound home and family. So, I co-sponsored a total of 27 bills aimed at reforming America’s immigration system to correct this wrong. Even then, I heard the rants of the people calling them “the illegals.”

That is why the fight for justice did not end, my colleagues and I decided to inspire a civil and humane debate as the House begins to consider comprehensive immigration reform. To inspire this debate, we are pushing the Humane Immigration Status Resolution (H Res 155). This resolution expresses the need for members of Congress to use terms such as “undocumented” and “undocumented workers” in describing foreign nationals and immigrants, rather than offensive references such as “illegals,” “illegal aliens” and “illegal immigrants.”

We must all come together to address this issue before we get caught in the complexities and debates that will come with immigration reform. This issue branches out far beyond an ethnicity issue like it was in my youth, because it is not about ethnicity or heritage. These negative references affect people across multiple ethnic groups.

Because we agree that this affects everyone, my colleagues (who represent numerous ethnic groups) and I are asking members of Congress to come together and choose the high road during House debates on immigration reform and to bring attention to the accurate type of language that should be used moving forward. Language is the vehicle for affirming or distorting the humanity of marginalized or oppressed groups. Our constituents and scores of others, as well as community groups, have expressed enthusiasm about this resolution’s introduction. This is an issue that lies at the heart of how we view the humanity of people who could very well be our neighbor.

We all must do our part. I will work to communicate with the media to express how we as Americans must alter the way we talk about individuals seeking citizenship and work visas to the United States. Even though this is a nonbinding resolution, which contains no “enforcement” provisions, we must be our own enforcement. By supporting this resolution, we will show that we not only support immigration reform but are stressing that we must move forward showing dignity and humanity.

Rep. Bobby L. Rush is a Democrat from Illinois.

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