A rule of this blog is that undocumented immigrants are not to be referred to as “illegals” or “illegal.”
But I do allow “illegal alien,” even though it’s not a phrase I’d use myself. Back when I made the rule, my thought was that it was a phrase used both by legal agencies and by mainstream news sources, so it seemed a bit weird to ban it here.
But that was over a decade ago. Things have changed since then.
NYC is banning the term “illegal alien” when used to demean someone. And neither the phrase “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien” are used by mainstream news sources much (although they’re both common in right-wing news) – in fact, those terms are banned in many news outlets.
On the other hand, it’s still a common phrase in laws and in the courts.
Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor said in an interview:
To dub every immigrant a criminal because they’re undocumented, to call them “illegal aliens,” seemed, and has seemed, insulting to me. Many of these people are people I know, and they’re no different than the people I grew up with or who share my life. And they’re human beings with a serious legal problem, but the word “illegal” alien made them sound like those other kinds of criminals. And I think people then paint those individuals as something less than worthy human beings. And it changes the conversation when you recognize that this is a different—it’s a regulatory problem. We’ve criminalized a lot of it, but it started as, and fundamentally remains, a regulatory problem, not a criminal one.
On the whole, I’m leaning towards banning “illegal alien” and perhaps “illegal immigrant” from Alas going forward. Jeffrey Toobin speaks for me when he says:
There does seem to be a consensus against the use of the term by the people most affected by it, who happen to be a vulnerable minority seeking a better life, and that’s good enough for me.
I’m going to leave a few days for comments before enacting a new rule. But I think I’m unlikely to change my mind on this one.