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Nonjudgmental immigrant language adopted by SCOTUS

In the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on an immigration case, the judges purposefully omitted the words "illegal immigrants" and "illegal aliens," and opted for a more humanistic language approach to our immigration law. The court used words like "removable alien" and "undocumented worker" and "foreign national" instead.

The argument implies that using the term "illegal" insinuates that the person as a whole is illegal, not just their actions. In fact, even migrant workers in the U.S. are not considered criminals. Yes, they are subject to deportation, but only through administrative procedures, not criminal proceedings, where judges have the ability to grant some foreign nationals the right to stay in the country.

The term "illegal immigrant" was actually introduced just before World War II to describe Jews who fled the Nazis and entered other countries without authorization. Therefore, it stands to reason that a New York Times editorial writer argued that the word "illegal" is a code word for ethnic and/or racial hatred.

Because the term "illegal immigrant" conjures up visions of people sneaking over, under or across a fence into the country, many associate the term with a negative connotation. Yet, we have at least 38,000 undocumented soldiers in the U.S. armed forces. In fact, the first U.S. soldier to die in the Iraq War was undocumented and granted citizenship posthumously.

In its latest immigration policy ruling, the Supreme Court declared that it is not a crime for non-citizens to remain in this county and find unauthorized employment. Removal of an undocumented worker is a civil matter, not a criminal one. Therefore, using unbiased language that does not promote continued stereotyping, hatred or bigotry to describe this large population may be the way to go. Labels and language determine and define one's attitudes and thoughts.

Source:, "Why 'illegal immigrant' is a slur," Charles Garcia, July 5, 2012

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