"Illegal Alien": The Proper Terminology


Under federal law, any non-U.S. citizen is an alien. Aliens who have entered the United States without permission, or who have violated the terms of their admission, are identified under the law as illegal aliens. That is a fact, not an issue for debate.

It is also a fact that, according to U.S. law, it is a crime to enter the United States without permission. The first offense is a misdemeanor, the second, a felony. It is true, however, that most violations of immigration law are dealt with in a civil court and not in a criminal court. An immigration judge is really an administrative adjudicator who has authority under the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) to determine whether or not an individual is deportable under U.S. law. This procedure for handling immigration cases is designed to speed up the process of deportation; it should not be interpreted as an indication that illegal immigration is not a criminal violation. Because illegal aliens are not U.S. citizens, they are not entitled to the full panoply of rights and privileges under the Constitution as are citizens. Thus, they can be held subject to a non-judicial ruling instead of a jury trial for their criminal violation of immigration law.

Despite the clarity in the U.S. code on proper terminology, what is known in legal parlance as the “term of art,” a political movement has arisen whose object is to substitute euphemism for precision. A variety of motivations underlie this effort, but regardless of intent, the goal is the same. Insistence on alternate terms such as “undocumented worker” represent a deliberate avoidance of the central and inescapable fact that millions of people are illegally residing in the United States in direct violation of democratically enacted and popularly supported law. Those who object to the use of the term “illegal alien” appear to believe that if they can convince the American public that illegal immigration is not really illegal, then amnesty no longer is amnesty, and enforcing immigration law is unnecessary.

View the document in full screen | Print the PDF


August 2014