"Illegal Immigrant" Missing from Supreme Court Ruling

As the U.S. immigration debate rolls on, a CNN commentator notes the absence of the term "illegal immigrant" in the recent Supreme Court ruling. Charles Garcia further explains why the term-and perhaps worse, "illegals"- is dehumanizing and racist. Illegal term

According to Garcia, calling someone an "illegal immigrant" or "illegal alien" labels that person as being illegal, rather than identifying his or her behavior as illegal. He points out that no one else in this country is considered illegal just because he or she breaks a law. When we get a speeding ticket, our action was illegal, but we are not.

Garcia also argues that the term has racist underpinnings:

"The term 'illegal immigrant' was first used in 1939 as a slur by the British toward Jews who were fleeing the Nazis and entering Palestine without authorization. Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel aptly said that 'no human being is illegal.' "

Despite Garcia's argument, the term persists. The Associate Press, for example, still recommends the term in its Stylebook, which Deputy Standards Editor explains:

"Together, the terms describe a person who resides in a country unlawfully by residency or citizenship requirements … Alternatives like undocumented worker, illegal alien or illegals lack precision or may have negative connotations. Illegal immigrant, on the other hand, is accurate and neutral for news stories."

Colorlines, a racial justice organization, agrees with Garcia's assessment and offers different guidelines for journalists. The organization suggests these terms to describe a person's situation more accurately: undocumented immigrant, unauthorized immigrant, and immigrant without papers.

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • What's your view of the term "illegal immigrant"? Do you agree with Garcia?
  • How do the recommended terms (undocumented immigrant, unauthorized immigrant, and immigrant without papers) fit with our discussion of "people-first" language?