September 2012 Archives

I sent the following email yesterday to Margaret Sullivan, the Public Editor of the New York Times.

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

I write with respect to your piece today addressing Jose Antonio Vargas's recent request to the AP and the New York Times to stop using the term "illegal immigrant."  Thank you for discussing this important issue.  I am an immigration attorney based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  You cited Mr. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards at The Times, as stating:

[I]n referring in general terms to the issue of people living in the United States without legal papers, we do think the phrases "illegal immigrants" and "illegal immigration" are accurate, factual and as neutral as we can manage under the circumstances. It is, in fact, illegal to enter, live or work in this country without valid documents.

I wanted to respond to this comment with a few points.  First, the terms "illegal immigrant" and "illegal alien" are not defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act and are generally disfavored by immigration judges and the members of the Board of Immigration Appeals, who make decisions about whether someone is to be removed from the U.S. or not.  According to applicable law, the terms are no more accurate than "undocumented" or "unauthorized."  "Alien" is the most accurate legal descriptor of a non-citizen.  I've attached and copied below a blog post I wrote for change.org a few years ago that explains this in more detail, with citations to applicable law (change.org recently removed the blog posts from that time period from its site, so the post is no longer available online.)

Second, the term illegal immigrant is not accurate because it usually assumes a person's immigration status when that status has not yet been determined by a court of law.  It has been documented that the Department of Homeland Security routinely attempts to deport U.S. citizens, and sometimes succeeds.  

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