The article I’m using as the basis for this rhetorical analysis is a 2007 blog written by Barbara Ehrenreich – a popular journalist, social activist, and author. The article is entitled “What America Owes its ‘Illegals’”. It is an informed opinion piece that critically looks at the current controversy regarding immigrant rights and considers topics such as current immigration laws, statistics regarding the nature and contributions of immigrant labor, and popular perceptions about the role of illegal immigrants in the American workforce. The author continually presents two viewpoints throughout her article – the conservative view that illegal immigrants are criminals that should be fined, penalized, and/or banished from the country; and the liberal view that illegal immigrants are hard workers whose only “crime” is “breaking and entry” (Ehrenreich). According to the liberal view, illegal immigrants should be better appreciated and compensated for their contributions to the American society. Ultimately, the author’s central claim is that illegal immigrants contribute more to society than most Americans realize and deserve much more than “native-born” civilians and policymakers are willing to provide to them (Ehrenreich). This liberal stance is rhetorically woven and implied throughout Ehrenreich’s informative engaging commentary and her strong careful use of ethos, pathos, and logos helps the author not only convey this claim effectively but, more importantly, persuade her audience to adopt her opinion on this controversial issue as well.
Ehrenreich’s utilization of ethos is strong but implicit, which gives credibility to her overall argument as her depth of knowledge subtly manifests throughout her work. Although she does not discuss her other work in this article, the author’s biography (a link which is included at the bottom of her blog entry) includes many years of experience as a journalist and social activist with four published books under her belt. She also holds a PhD and has worked as a teacher at the university level. These attributes establish the expertise of Ehrenreich’s character and lend strong credibility to her opinion in an indirect and unstated way to readers who follow the biography link included at the end of Ehrenreich’s blog entry. However, her development of ethos is most explicitly (and successfully) inferred through the article itself in her direct use of credible sources.
Throughout the article, Ehrenreich reiterates her opinion about “the massive compensation owed to undocumented immigrants” (Ehrenreich). Opinion pieces that express and reiterate seemingly radical ideas such as this ultra-liberal stance often come across as ranting or polemic in nature, especially when the only voice the author includes in her work is her own. Ehrenreich, however, supports her opinions with examples and information from a range of good sources that effectively illustrate, exemplify or prove her point. Ehrenreich references and/or quotes Rush Limbaugh, authors Gabriel Thompson and Jennifer Gordon, the Boston Globe and the San Diego American Civil Liberties Union.
In addition to these sources, Ehrenreich points toward the (contradictory) actions of political figures that have taken the conservative stance on the immigration issue, such as Rush Limbaugh, Nevada's Governor Jim Gibbons, and 2012 presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. Exposing the hypocrisy inherent in these figures’ past employment of illegal immigrants strengthens Ehrenreich‘s point about the unfairness of the new immigration bill that proposes $5000 fines for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship, while demonstrating how heavily-relied upon immigrant work actually is even to those who oppose illegal immigrant workers. Ehrenreich is smart to point out that Nevada's Governor, Jim Gibbons, “once employed an undocumented nanny. And as the Boston Globe revealed late last year, Mitt Romney's lawn in suburban Boston was maintained by illegal immigrants from Guatemala” (Ehrenreich).
References like these works rhetorically weaken the bill supporters’ ethos while strengthening Ehrenreich’s own – by exposing the hypocrisy in these political figures’ opinions, Ehrenreich is implicitly discrediting them and their view without ever saying a bad word or condemning the people themselves. This, in turn, develops and strengthens Ehrenreich’s own ethos as it enables her readers to see her as fair, informed, and not overtly biased or angry. This utilization of ethos establishes Ehrenreich as rational, informed, and trustworthy which, in turn, persuades her readership to trust and adopt her opinion and to reject the opposing viewpoint.
Ehrenreich’s implied credibility, depth of knowledge, and fairness also work to develop and strengthen logos in her article. When voicing her opinion, Ehrenreich’s tone takes on notes of sarcasm, humor, and wit at times, like when she satirically states that “the touching belief, in the class occupied by Rush Limbaugh among many others, [is] that offices clean themselves at night and salad greens spring straight from the soil onto one's plate” (Ehrenreich). But these quirky narrative elements do not work against the convincing sense of logic that emerges from her article thanks to her balance of supporting credible quotes and references. Also, Ehrenreich does not simply state information or opinions, but poses questions to her audience as well. This indicates that the author is speaking directly to those who oppose or are unsure about providing benefits to illegal immigrants – there would be no need to ask guided questions such as “What have the immigrants been doing once they get into the US? Taking up time on the elliptical trainers in our health clubs? Getting ahead of us on the wait-lists for elite private nursery schools?” (Ehrenreich) if she was speaking to a readership who already upholds her viewpoint. This subtle but clear sense of purpose and direction enhances the logos of this article in an implicit but effective way. In addition, the beliefs and values that implicitly emerge from Ehrenreich’s blog also contribute to a strong sense of logos. Her support of illegal immigrants and call for better treatment of them might seem irrational or ill-informed upon first glance, especially to someone who adheres to the general belief that illegal immigrants are criminals that steal American jobs. But the liberal values and beliefs that underpin Ehrenreich’s article work to strengthen the validity of her argument, especially when those values and beliefs allow the author to recount and share that
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undocumented immigrants annually pay an estimated $7 billion more than they take out into Social Security, and $1.5 billion more into Medicare.... A study by the National Academy of Sciences also found that tax payments generated by immigrants outweighed any costs associated with services used by immigrants (Ehrenreich),
a fact that conservative viewpoints may try to undermine or conceal. By including little known facts like these, Ehrenreich rationalizes and contextualizes her opinion on this issue as a current liberal issue with an important message for all those who may not realize how few American resources illegal immigrants actually exhaust.
Finally, there is the author’s sense of pathos which is most visible and effective through Ehrenreich’s tone. Her use of language is unaggressive, smart (without being too sophisticated or abstruse), and playful which works to disengage rising tempers or other negative reactions to her viewpoint. Playful, narrative utterances such as “let a mighty whine rise over the land: Undocumented workers shouldn't be fined; they should get a hefty bonus!” (Ehrenreich) effectively express the author’s radical opinion without inciting rage or anger thanks to the casual and humorous tone of the author’s voice. Furthermore, the playful humor in comments such as these appeal to her audience’s desire to learn more and listen to what she has to say – why on Earth should illegal immigrants be rewarded? The slightly incensed reader will continue reading to find out. This is a clever rhetorical tactic. Her discussion of illegal workers’ harsh labor conditions, low or undelivered pay rates, namelessness and underappreciativeness among their employers elicit sympathy from Ehrenreich’s readers is perhaps the most effective aspect of persuasion in her work.
In conclusion, Ehrenreich cleverly employs ethos, pathos, and logos throughout her article to make the point that illegal immigrants are underpaid, warrant decriminalized status and deserve better treatment in the United States. The author establishes credibility with the reader, makes emotional and weighted appeals to the reader, engages the reader in the debate and arranges her facts and sources to effectively persuade the reader. “What America Owes its ‘Illegals’” is a perfect example of rhetoric that is expertly and effectively employed to sway the reader’s opinion and persuade him or her to take stock in what the author is selling through persuasive language.
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