Various politicians, news channels, and even our President Donald Trump use the term “illegal” while referring to people who have entered the United States of America without proper documentation and framework. It also refers to those people who are currently in America longer than the allowing period on their passports. Another popularly used term used for people under these particular scenarios is “illegal alien” which is equally as derogatory as the others especially when the people referred to here are from the Middle East. Considering headlines and speeches by our political leaders it is very common to hear the words illegal and immigrant in one sentence. However, recently there has been a lot of pushover from the people to change the type of vocabulary used for immigrants.
Staying in a country without proper authorization doesn’t make them an illegal person or a criminal. Something of this degree however does fall under the category of civil offence. Advocates of human rights and overall peace shed light on the fact that no human being can or should be considered illegal. The use of the words “undocumented” or “unauthorized” is being promoted instead of “illegal” or “illegal alien”. Changing the vocabulary for the action doesn’t change the fact that it is something looked down upon, but promotes unconditional respect for every human being irrespective of their nationality or immigration status. “Illegal” means contrary to or forbidden by law, with its synonyms being felonious, illicit, and unlawful. On the other hand, “undocumented” means to not have appropriate legal documents or to be not proved by the existence of legal documentation.
The term “illegal” was deleted from the stylebook of the Associated Press highlighting that “illegal” is a term used for an action thus is not applicable to people. In 2015, the term “alien” was removed from state’s labor code by California Governor Jerry Brown. Before “illegal aliens” there was a term “wetbacks” used for all the Mexicans residing in the United States. This offensive term was common in newspapers as well as popular literature. Surprisingly, an effort to deport a number of people in the 1960s was termed “Operation Wetbacks”. Even though it became highly unpopular as a racial offence, major publishers continued to use the term in their books and newspapers.
In more recent times, the term “illegal aliens” is in constant use by judges of Supreme courts. Federal agencies as well as federal courts make use of the term numerous times even though there is no official requirement for it the judgments that play out as verdicts. This highlights the popularity of the term in the masses as well as the professionals in different departments. However some believe that the term “illegal” or “illegal alien” is not derogatory at all because it only suggests that the immigrant is unaccounted for in a foreign state. It is important to note that not all of the justice system is tilted towards the use of these terms because in 2009 Justice Sonia Sotomayor disagreed to use the term “illegal” and instead chose “undocumented” because stating these immigrants as illegal outlines them as offenders and criminals in terms of murder, theft, as well as drugs which isn’t a correct or generalisable assumption.
News reporters and advocates contribute by highlighting that a more humanistic approach should be taken while improving the United States Immigration Policy by removing racial and judgmental language as it is not a crime for an “alien” to be living in the United States to begin with. Given the push on this certain topic by the masses it is very much possible for the court to not choose offensive and derogatory terms for cases involving immigrants. The problem with the word illegal has been widely discussed in the heated immigration debate as this inaccurate word continues to be used on a daily basis by citizens as well people in the media. Not many users of the terms realize that calling immigrants illegal is equivalent to calling a defendant a criminal who is simply waiting for his trail. More than ten million people in the United States have immediate family members as American citizens which means that their immigration status can be easily adjusted according to their circumstances.
Perhaps the most important point here lies in the meaning of the word itself. In general terms the word “illegal” is used to describe something that is against the law and punishable under the statutes. Example, if someone hits someone with a car because they were drunk, the driver is considered to be a drunk driver in a hit and run case but not an illegal driver under any circumstances. Similarly, if a person commits a crime no matter how big or small they are not considered illegal but are to be prosecuted under civil offence. Journalists in the media propose themselves to be advocates of fixing the debate between “illegal” and “undocumented” but continue to use the derogatory terms in their publications while referring to the immigrants that were initially supposed to be protected from these racial slurs. The fact that they themselves continue fuelling the fire for this particular debate highlights that they are not on the correct course of action. This way republican strategists and journalists cannot achieve neutrality or fairness for the immigrants that they aspire to achieve because the term “illegal” is not designed to neutralize any situation as we always associate illegality with dangerous criminals.
Different newsrooms around the United States have their own stylebook which they abide by in terms of what they publish. In 2003, The Miami Herald stopped the use of the word while in The Huffington Post followed the same path in 2008. The main idea was to remove the terms “illegal immigrants” from the stylebook so that its usage is ceased in news casting and newspaper publications. It is imperative to realize that the immigrants that people speak of lowly are so well integrated in almost every sector of the economy. The language that we use also belongs to them, because the only thing that separates us from them is the fact that their life and everyday choices are dictated by having or not having proper documents. The whole idea of US immigration is more than just who got their papers in a legal way or who didn’t. It’s about foreign policy, extending the economy, as well as the long history United States has with the rest of the world.
In a nutshell, it becomes very important to realize the difference between the word “illegal” and “undocumented” because it completely changes how the immigrants are viewed. Calling an immigrant illegal dehumanizes them, and it is not acceptable to treat a human being like anything other than a human being. We are living in an age where a green card decides how we view someone, in simpler terms, the green card is significantly more important than the human being themselves. Lies told by their parents become lies of the newer generations, it turns into a vicious circle which needs to be corrected, but it still doesn’t qualify for being termed as “illegal”.