Recently in Journalism Category

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 a few years ago that explains this in more detail, with citations to applicable law ( 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.  
Sandhya Somashekhar authored an article in the Washington Post on the failing push by Republican leadership to revise the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which grants citizenship to all human beings that are born on U.S. soil. 

Towards the end of an article is a nonsenical paragraph from Somashekhar that plays on the fears of nativists that unauthorized migrants are somehow purposely having babies in the U.S. to benefit themselves. 

More troubling to some is that illegal immigrants often further root themselves in U.S. society by having American children, their plight often winning the sympathy of the public. In one widely publicized case in 2007, a Mexican woman barricaded herself and her 8-year-old son, who was a U.S. citizen, inside a Chicago church in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid deportation.
Sandhya Somashekhar - Washington Post (8 August 2010)
Somashekhar contradicts herself in her own paragraph, here.  She appeals to an anonymous "some" here to suggest that unauthorized migrants are rooting themselves in U.S. society through having "American children" and then cites the case of Elvira Arellano who was deported away to Mexico despite having a U.S. citizen child.  How could Arellano have further "rooted" herself in the U.S. through a child when she was deported?

It's just a small paragraph at the end of an article but it nonetheless legitimizes false fears that unauthorized migrants are coming to the U.S. specifically to have babies in order to benefit themselves.  Anyone who is intellectually honest knows that this is not true.

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