Immigration Debate: The Problem With the Word “Illegal”

Ideas

What part of “illegal” don’t you understand?

Add that to the list of questions I am repeatedly asked since publicly disclosing my undocumented-immigrant status in the summer of 2011. Calling undocumented people “illegal immigrants” — or worse, “illegal aliens,” as Mitt Romneydid in front of a largely Latino audience last week — has become such standard practice for politicians and the media, from Bill O’Reilly to the New York Times, that people of all political persuasions do not think twice about doing it too.

(MORE:For Romney, Fundraising Comes First)

But describing an immigrant as illegal is legally inaccurate. Being in the U.S. without proper documents is a civil offense, not a criminal one. (Underscoring this reality, Justice Anthony Kennedywrote for the majority opinion on SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration law: “As a general rule, it is not a crime for a movable alien to remain…

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