Naming of Things – Immigration

Jin Kong is a guest research fellow with The Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council (GCWAC) for the next six months. This fellowship is sponsored by The Mission Continues. Through this fellowship, Kong is researching to gain a better understanding of the populist sentiment towards immigrants in the Cincinnati region. This is one blog of many on his research of immigration and Cincinnati. To learn more about Jin Kong click here.


“So this is how liberty dies … with thunderous applause.” – Padme Amidala, addressing the senate warning of a power grab by the dark side to form a galactic empire, Star War III.

Naming something is important. By naming something, we give it a fixation and we can continue to examine the thing we have named comparatively and ask questions about it.

By asking questions, we can systematically specify what we see; and we can formulate hypotheses to suggest how the phenomenon we named relate to another.

It is important to name the thing we mean to question, but equally important is clearly understand the name we assign when we question a phenomenon. This becomes a problem, however, often not easily avoided because we don’t spent much time thinking about the naming convention and rush to assumptions.

Take immigration for example: it is often loosely referenced when movement of people is discussed in the public debate. Most people avoid the precise definition of “immigration” for some argumentative accessibility—using it to mean whatever it is convenient to make a political, economic, or social norm contention. Some people use it to describe illegal migration; some use it to discuss migration loosely in the context of economic advantages; and some use the word to assign blame for political incompetence.

Officially, “immigration” is used in the United States to reference the grant of rights to a foreign migrant to permanently reside and to work without restrictions. As an immigrant myself, this is a very important definition. It meant livelihood, pride, and self-worth; if I did not have rights and was not able to earn a living, then life has very little fulfillment and would be filled then with fear.

A wise little green alien once said “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” And we all know how that turned out for Anakin Skywalker.

As a one-time non-immigrant, I remember the stress my family went thorough waiting on our status adjustment. My father had quit his job in China working for the state. It was an impossible task moving my mother and me to the United States, but he was a determined man. If our status did not adjust, it would have been a nightmare for all of us; but determination paid off. We became immigrants.

I remember the day I received my Social Security card that did not say “restricted from employment.” My first job was working for the Cincinnati Zoo during the summer of my sophomore year. Minimum wage was $3.25 per hour and I worked all summer to make just a bit over $600. I don’t remember how I spent the money, but I do remember the feeling of independence when I received my first pay check. But what would’ve happened if our status did not adjust? I remember that dark cloud hanging over my family for the years it took to get the news that came in the form of an official looking letter from the immigration office. Today it is a distant memory, but nonetheless a distinct one.

I had not thought about this bit of my personal history until I began my research project. After looking through pages and pages of editorials and op-eds, I realized that not everyone uses the word “immigration” precisely to mean the same; and most often it is because of the variance in its implicit definition that sparks controversy between parties and polarizes opinions.

For example, many who are opposed to immigration make the point about legal immigrants having to wait their turn while the illegal immigrants get their amnesty by luck. It’s a rights versus privilege debate and it offends most of us to know that rights are not earned and privileges are expected. This kind of mentality encourages the entitlement sickness in this country and it strikes a deep cord politically.

Another example is when both side of the aisle use the word immigration so carelessly to discuss economic incentives. Who should be penalized for the job snatch? Who should be paying taxes and penalties? And whether illegal migrants should be given amnesty if they are able to pay a fee? Most keen observers point out frankly that laws are meant to be laws; and it is an enforcement issue we have, not a humanitarian issue. We do have work visas, refugee and asylum statuses; and the NGO charities are free to do their part supporting the poor and the needy. But should the tax payer support the unlawful? That is a contentious debate isn’t it?

As I proceed in my research project to continue coding the editorials and op-eds of newspapers of this region, perhaps there is something I can contribute to the mess of this debate. Coding in qualitative analysis is about the discovery of concepts to uncover names enabling the reader to discover common characteristics of related meanings and clarify intentions of the communication. Description of these names is a discipline to ensure the variances are accounted for and we are clear what we are discussing are one and the same so the debate can be productive rather than circular.

Or else the fast paced of today’s digital media opinions run the risk of killing liberty … “with thunderous applause.

The blog is in part of the Mission Continues blog series, written by Jin Kong and therefore all words and thoughts are his own and not a reflection of GCWAC.

Local Resources

Learn More