Why did TV3 call Kamala Harris’​ Mother an Illegal Immigrant?

Shyamala Harris – New York Times

It’s a media owner’s nightmare (I ought to know). TV3, the TV arm of Malaysian media conglomerate Media Prima, recently apologised for describing Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris as a daughter of an “illegal foreign immigrant” (or more literally, a “foreign arrival without permission”) from India.

Is this a simple mistake or does it betray something more insidious?

Well for one, there was no wire news or other news outlet that described Kamala Harris’ mother as an illegal immigrant. So this descriptor originated from TV3. Ouch.

Was it intentional? No, I don’t think so. It’s actually worse.

It’s reflex.

In Malaysia, we are used to prefixing the word “immigrant” with the word “illegal”. That’s because there are probably at least 2 million undocumented foreign workers in Malaysia. And we have used it so much in the context of domestic issues that we forget 2 things:

First, we do have legal foreign workers in Malaysia who have working and residency status in Malaysia. So let’s not assume that just because someone is brown and foreign, he is an illegal immigrant (yes, we never have that assumption when someone is white and foreign).

Second, foreign workers, whether legal or illegal, are an important contributor to the Malaysian economy. Instead of demonising them for everything (crimes, jobs, Covid-19), let’s recognise them for their contributions and make their path to being legal painless. They are just trying to earn a living and feed their families like the rest of us, and need us to protect them from the rogue elements of Malaysian police and immigration personnel. With proper documentation, we can funnel them to sectors where Malaysians do not want to work in, so there’s no displacement of Malaysian workers.

It does not help that Malay supremacist politicians in Malaysia use the Malay word “pendatang”, which loosely means “immigrant” (but more literally means “arrivals”), to describe fellow Malaysians who are from non-Malay descent. It normalises the word, resulting in the current situation describing Kamala Harris as a “pendatang asing tanpa izin” or a “foreign immigrant/arrival without permission”.

How Trumpian of Malaysia.

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