Drop the I-Word: I Am…a Retired Minister Who Wants Humane Reform

Ed Keener from Boise, Idaho, is the latest to offer a personal testimony on why it's time to Drop the I-Word.

By Mu00f3nica Novoa Apr 22, 2011

This week’s "I Am…" story is from Ed Keener, a retired minister from Iowa who ponders how people of faith could revolutionize the immigration reform debate. President Obama and a select group of "stakeholders" met on Tuesday to discuss fixing the broken immigration system, in order to meet the country’s "economic and security needs." Keener’s perspective on why we need reform is different: Our system doesn’t treat people humanely. And the language we use to discuss immigration justifies the inhumane system we have built. "[The i-word] is used to dehumanize people and create fear and separation through the idea of ‘them versus us,’ " Keener writes. That’s why he’s joined the campaign to Drop the I-Word.

For the "I Am…" storytelling project, people from all walks of life relate experiences, demand respect and reject criminalizing language about immigrants. Stories are gathered in collaboration with our campaign partners. We are grateful to the Alliance for a Just Society and Ed Keener for today’s story.


I am a retired minister

I am a retired minister living in Boise, Idaho, in a predominantly white neighborhood. My family has been in the United States for many generations. I am a compassionate person. I know our inhumane immigration system is broken and benefiting people in places of power. The word "illegals" is used to make way for this broken system and used purposefully by U.S. citizens to denigrate people of color and people of undocumented status. My great grandfather, who fled Denmark and immigrated to the U.S. without documentation to avoid war in Europe, would never have been called that vile word.

Immigration is a complex issue for many congregations to tackle, but people of faith could do more to support humane immigration reform. With more support on how to address root issues, pastors and lay leaders in faith communities could initiate public education that engages both the mind and the emotions. We need to take non-violent action to confront hatred, and address all of the reasons for media and people of all faiths to drop the i-word.

This is not an accidental term. It is used to dehumanize people and create fear and separation through the idea of "them versus us." People in power use language to maintain power, gain power and acquire power. It is a power game, but power must be shared. Those with unfair power must learn how to give it up. We need to have a conversation to overcome the fear.

As a country, we will benefit more when immigrants have a fair and simple path to citizenship. I believe we need to allow people who are trapped and vilified by their immigration status to move and work freely. The United States has facilitated poverty in neighboring countries south of the border with the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Central American Trade Agreement, while also denying support to workers in this country. Corporate accountability is part of the solution, but the i-word does not allow us to even begin the conversation about humane trade and commerce.

–Ed Keener