Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2007 article, “What America Owes to Its Illegals” touches the issue of illegal immigrants and the way that they are treated by the authorities and by companies. Her article is motivated by the immigration bill which states that illegal immigrants must pay $ 5000 to gain citizenship in the United States. The author instead claims that America owes the immigrant undocumented workers money for the hard work they do, and the large amounts of money they pay for social services and medicare. The author deplores illegal workers’ situation as invisible individuals who do not receive any recognition for their hard work, and are treated unjustly and too harshly by the system and by their employers, who are often the same people who banish them. Even though the author makes skillful use of ethos to convince the readers, and appeals to pathos to a great extent, her argument is rather weak because there is little appeal to logos, as this paper will show.

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The first rhetorical device used by the author is the appeal to ethos, which refers to the credibility of the author in front of the audience. The author uses ethos extensively in the article to give strength to her argument. First, the tag line under the author’s name, “New York Times bestselling author” is intended to convince the audience that the author is respectable and her opinion must be valued. Then, the author’s ethos is established by the sources she quotes in order to demonstrate the validity of her argument. The author quotes data from ACLU website which demonstrates that “undocumented immigrants annually pay an estimated $7 billion more than they take out into Social Security” (Ehrenreich), and also, the authors of two books on the topic.

The author’s language and the aspect of the article attract the respect of readers, and she organizes her article into three points, the first, the second and the third. Her harsh tone is meant to influence readership into taking her side against the immigration bill. Her article tries to defend illegal immigrants and therefore, is meant for a reluctant audience, which does not agree with her. Her tone is provocative and her article is radical, trying to shock the audience and make them think. She directly accuses the proponents of the immigration bill of using illegal workers, thus trying to discredit them. However, the author is deeply biased and this weakens her ethos. This is shown by the fact that she does not mention the other side of the argument, and does not refer to the harm done to the society, and to the country’s economy, by illegal immigration in general. Also, she characterizes all illegal immigrants as Mexicans who came to the United States to find work, but she ignores the fact that there are many other types of illegal immigrants, and uses a stereotypical image of the illegal immigrant.

Ehrenreich also uses the appeal to pathos to gain the audience’s support. She pleads in favor of the illegal immigrant worker by showing that the society is unfairly though with people who only want to do an honest work: “the punitive rage directed at illegal immigrants grows out of a larger blindness to the manual labor that makes our lives possible” (Ehrenreich). The words “punitive rage” are a hyperbole meant to influence readers to feel sympathy for the defenseless workers against whom such powerful feelings are directed. Also, the idea that the work of the illegal immigrants makes the lives of ordinary Americans possible is meant to touch the readers and cause them to look at the illegal workers with different eyes.

Although the author appeals to ethos and pathos rather effectively, what she lacks most is the appeal to logos. The author expresses her opinion, but does not uphold it with facts. Except for the quote from the ACLU website, she does not prove her argument. The other two references she uses are meant to further influence the audience by appealing to their emotions, as it concerns the hardships encountered by illegal immigrants, and the injustice they face. For example, she references the case of a “Guatemalan worker whose boss intentionally burned him with hot pans of oil for not washing dishes fast enough” (Ehrenreich).This however does not prove her point and therefore, this information does not support her argument from a logical point of view. In addition, she does not address the other side of the issue, and does not respond to possible counterarguments. Instead, she attacks the opponents to immigration by naming them, “immigrant-bashers”, thus using the ad hominem fallacy to persuade the audience.

As the present paper tried to show, the author appeals most often to ethos and to pathos to persuade the audience and change their opinion that illegal immigrants should pay for citizenship. The author does not only try to convince them that illegal immigrants should not be punished, but adopts a radical view and claims that the American society owns illegal immigrants for their hard work, sometimes in dreadful conditions. However, the author does not bring logical evidence in support for her argument. Rather, she constructs an opinion piece, and presents a biased and one-sided view on the topic. The author uses the ad hominem fallacy by attacking the opponents of immigration instead of refuting their arguments, and provides arguments that do nothing to prove her point but rather, they appeal to the audience emotionally, by trying to elicit shock, sympathy, and revolt against the unfair treatment of illegal workers. For this reason, her argument is weak and unconvincing.

  • Ehrenreich, Barbara. “What America Owes Its Illegals”. The Nation. 2007. Web.