Editor’s Note: Daily Cal drops use of ‘illegal immigrant’

Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and founder of Define American, has recently reignited the debate around the use of the phrase “illegal immigrant,” arguing that the term is not only offensive but that it has also been used inaccurately because it criminalizes individuals rather than their actions.

And now, Vargas, a journalist himself, is calling on the media to stop using the term.

“Above all, for journalists who seek neutrality and fairness, using the term further politicizes an already political issue,” Vargas said at the annual Online News Association meeting on Sept. 21. “The term dehumanizes and marginalizes the people it seeks to describe.”

At The Daily Californian, we agree.

On Sunday, the Senior Editorial Board voted to no longer use the term “illegal immigrant” when reporting on immigration issues. Out of preference and habit, it has already been the practice of our reporters and editors to opt for the word “undocumented.”

As students of the University of California at Berkeley, we regularly report on issues of immigration in the state, and many of our peers themselves are undocumented students. Last fall, we rolled out a packaged multimedia feature named Dream State to analyze — and humanize — the California DREAM Act on our campus.

We believe that the modifier “illegal” unnecessarily offends our readership while the word “undocumented” is a more effective and objective way to describe one’s immigration status.

Last year, the Society of Professional Journalists passed a resolution urging all newsrooms to stop using the terms “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant” after hearing an emotional plea from Rebecca Aguilar, a member of SPJ and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. The organization, which has around 9,000 members nationwide, called the term “illegal alien” “offensive and bureaucratic” and described the phrase “illegal immigrant” as “politically charged.”

“Only the court system, not reporters and editors, can decide when a person has committed an illegal act,” the resolution states.

In recent years, some mainstream news sources, including the Miami Herald and the San Antonio News-Express, have stopped using the term while others, like the Associated Press and The New York Times, have refused to drop the term.

The influence of the media is unquestionable, and, as journalists, we must be constantly aware of that fact. Sometimes we have to take a step back, question the language we use and consider how it shapes public discourse.

Stephanie Baer is the editor in chief and president.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/steven.kingham.1 Steven Kingham

    The phrase “illegal alien” is doubleplusungood!

    • Calipenguin

      Let’s dispense with the Smalltalk, shall we?

  • Calipenguin

    The SJP states “Only the court system, not reporters and editors, can decide when a person has committed an illegal act”. Does this mean reporters can still use the term “illegal alien” if the subject of a story has been convicted of a crime? Or are reporters and editors urged not to use the word “illegal” even if those illegals were convicted of murder? Since Obama refuses to legalize illegal aliens, not even “DREAMers”, the term “illegal” is still accurate even when Obama is failing to carry out his duty as the chief of the Executive Branch.

  • Calipenguin

    If Latinos in other countries have no problem with the word “Illegals”, why should we fret about it here in the USA? “Los Illegales” is a Dominican rock / hip hop/salsa band and to my knowledge no Ethnic Studies students at Cal has ever asked band members to change the name of their band. Ironically the band put out a song called “Heil Hitler” that makes fun of smelly hippies and cozies up to Nazis. You can hear that song on Youtube but I won’t give a link since it’s offensive to me. But hey, they have the right to call themselves “Illegals”, their Spanish-speaking fans don’t find that offensive, so the Daily Cal ought to re-examine its decision not to use the term “illegals”.


  • Robbins Mitchell

    I prefer the term “criminal wetbacks” myself…but then I’m a stickler for semantic precision

    • http://www.vega.com/ Vega – Poli-Cultural Humorist

      You’re also a virulent racist, based on your DISQUS comments, so gives a shit what you think.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Liberalsaredummies Floyd Geron Looney

    You wouldn’t want your readers to be offended with contact to reality or anything. How about we just say the Daily Cal rejects reality and will live in its own imaginary world?

  • strayaway

    English would be so much easier to learn if only there weren’t so many words each with different meanings. The precise legal term is “illegal alien”. One is either a citizen or alien under US immigration law. Aliens come in two varieties; legal and illegal. Not all illegal aliens are immigrants. Some plan to work here for awhile before returning home and a few blew up the Trade Towers. Maybe bank robbers should also be recognized as being “undocumented” for their lack of savings account documentation.

  • JDawg

    I have to admit UC Berkeley is an excellent place for math and hard sciences, but the “political correctness” and Orwellian doublespeak here is absolutely astounding. Might as well be Oral Roberts university of the Left.

  • some student

    Also, I don’t see the word “alien” as offensive, because even if you immigrate LEGALLY, in government terms you are considered a resident alien. According to US law, all “alien” means is that you are not a citizen or US national. By the government definition, some aliens are immigrants, others are not. “Unauthorized alien” is the term used for undocumented immigrants. I’d have to disagree with the Society of Professional Journalists..the US legal system has already defined the word “alien,” and it’s not pejorative. It just means somebody who is not a citizen or national.

  • some student

    I’m fine with dropping the term when it refers to people, but in discussion of the issue of people entering the country illegally, will the term “illegal immigration” still be used? I can see how calling a PERSON illegal is stigmatizing, but the act itself is illegal, so I would expect “illegal immigration” to still be OK to use even if the person doing it is called an “undocumented immigrant.”

    • Calipenguin

      The illegal aliens would then be called “participants in illegal immigration” which may still be objectionable to them since it uses the word “illegal”. Jose Vargas, the illegal alien TIME columnist, is trying to twist American English so that illegal aliens can somehow be called “Americans” and I suspect illegal aliens won’t be happy until they are called “Americans.”

  • I_h8_disqus

    Stephanie, we know that you are only doing this for political reasons, and that is a shame. The comments section will follow the lead of the New York Times and the Associated Press and continue to use the terms illegal alien or illegal immigrant.

    • Calipenguin

      Perhaps Stephanie wants to join the Society of Professional Journalists some day and needs to correct her politics first.

  • Calipenguin

    The term “illegal” can be used with a person’s status and not just in reference to illegal aliens. I’ve seen phrases such as “illegal abortionists”, “illegal voters”, and “illegal poachers”. In English adjectives can also be used as nouns, with phrases such as “the British are coming”, “the meek shall inherit the earth” and “The Young and the Restless”. Spanish often uses adjectives as nouns: “Compré las más buenas” and “El Gordo y La Flaca”.
    I’m disappointed El Diario Cal didn’t consult some English and Spanish majors before making this decision.

  • Calipenguin

    I had no idea the Daily Cal editors were such fans of George Orwell’s Newspeak. “Undocumented immigrant” is wrong on so many levels. Many illegal aliens do carry documentation, but those documents merely prove they are in the U.S. illegally. “Immigrant” is also the wrong term, since many illegals left spouses and children in their home countries and plan to return there instead of becoming permanent U.S. immigrants. The illegals cannot even be considered tourists because real tourists are required by every nation to carry passports and documents showing their port of entry and are not allowed to take jobs away from citizens. I have an idea… instead of corrupting our language to spare the tender ears of the illegal aliens, why don’t we just use the Spanish term “sin papeles” and have El Diario Cal use that term from now on?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rosa-Hernandez/100001006597869 Rosa Hernandez

    I am and undocumented student. I read the Daily Cal and I thank you for having had this vote. I don’t really expect the commenters bellow, presumably birth-right citizens, to understand how truly upsetting it is to hear yourself referred to as “illegal”, because the fact is that this hurt comes from an entire life experience and humanity that is essentially denied in this totalizing objectifying word “illegal”. Just like I wouldn’t expect a white student from suburbia to understand what it’s like to be called a “spic” or a “nigger”, i don’t expect them to understand what it’s like to have your entire life, individuality, and your person reduced to a label “illegal alien”. I didn’t choose to come to this country, I was five when I was brought here by a mother who did her best for me to survive poverty and has then continuously fought for our survival here. I don’t blame my undocumented mother for having journeyed across a dessert for me to eat everyday and go to school. But I refuse the simplification of our lives to the right-wing anti-immigrant mantras of “law breakers are illegal” because this isn’t true. When US citizens become convicted felons by committing serious crimes, they are not all of a sudden “illegals”, when Wall Street Bankers illegally gambled and lost other people’s money they didn’t become “illegals”, this term only applies to poor people who decided to leave poverty, crime, and war ridden countries in order to chase the American dream of social mobility. I hope the US retains it’s stance on the world stage for the next hundred years and your families never have to migrate to survive, because I don’t wish the demonization that comes with “illegal aliens” to be applied to you or your descendants. Thank you so much Daily Cal Senior Editorial Board, for listening to our stories, for acknowledging the intricate and complicated lives that Undocumented People live in the US and for not yielding to anti-immigrant rhetoric. When you’re undocumented, any ally is a powerful ally. Thank you.

    • Calipenguin

      Rosa, I’m sure you’re a very loyal daughter and love your mother very much. I don’t expect you to blame her even if she had to sell cocaine and shoot gringos to bring you into this country. However, if she is a narcotraficante then that is the proper term whether it hurts your feelings or not. If she did something illegal to make a better life for you, thank her but don’t try to change our language to take away your family’s shame. You want to chase the American dream? So do a billion other people in the world. They are not illegal aliens, you are. And they would gladly trade places with you in an instant. If this term is so hurtful to you, bringing with it such “demonization”, then beg your mother to take you back to your country of birth so that she can fight her corrupt government, just as America’s founding fathers fought King George III, to improve living conditions and build a university as fine as U.C. Berkeley for your own people.

    • I_h8_disqus

      At least recognize that your mom is an illegal alien. She broke the law. She doesn’t get to be undocumented.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WRACM77JT2RXUR3LMGDPPUGUYY Tony M

      [Just like I wouldn't expect a white student from suburbia to understand what it's like to be called a "spic" or a "nigger", i don't expect them to understand what it's like to have your entire life, individuality, and your person reduced to a label "illegal alien".]

      Get over it, Rosa. Nobody here is criticizing your race or ethnicity. We’re criticizing the fact that not only individuals who are in our country illegally are sponging off our taxpayer dollars, but that they somehow feel they have a right to silence any criticism of that fact. See, we have this thing called “freedom of speech”, and it really p!sses some of us off when people who come from other countries uninvited start telling us what we can or can not say.

      [But I refuse the simplification of our lives to the right-wing anti-immigrant mantras of "law breakers are illegal" because this isn't true.]

      You are so WRONG on SO many points it’s difficult to figure out where to start. For starters, “illegal” means “illegal”. If I sell stuff on the streets without a permit or a license, I’m an illegal vendor. If you come to my country and circumvent our immigration laws while being a foreign national, you’re an illegal alien. Those aren’t terms we just made up. Those terms are defined in law under Section 8 of the US Code. Secondly, you whine and cry about pejoratives while calling those who disagree with you “right wing” and “anti-immigrant”. Well guess what, little girl? We aren’t “anti-immigrant” – we have NO problem with LEGAL immigrants – those people from other countries who respect our laws, play by the rules, and get in line. We are OPPOSED to granting SPECIAL FAVORS and dispensations to those who cut the line and came here illegally. There’s a difference between those two – what’s so hard to understand there?

      [When US citizens become convicted felons by committing serious crimes, they are not all of a sudden "illegals"]

      For starters, unlike you, they have a right to be in the country legally. However, if they are convicted of serious crimes, they are subject to punishment including incarceration in jail or prison. What is it exactly you are complaining about? Would you rather be locked up like a common criminal here rather than merely deported to your country of origin?

      [Wall Street Bankers illegally gambled and lost other people's money]

      WTF does this have to do with illegal immigration? Sounds like you have had your small mind stuffed full of left-wing nonsense courtesy of some racial/ethnic grievance course of study @ Cal.

      [this term only applies to poor people who decided to leave poverty, crime, and war ridden countries]

      Which begs the question of why people like you think that just because your own country is f-cked up beyond all hope that it gives you some license to break our laws and come here? There are plenty of people all over the world who would be more than happy to come to America, and unlike snivelers like you, they would have genuine appreciation of the opportunity and be willing to RESPECT OUR IMMIGRATION LAWS by applying for entry visas like most people. What makes you assume you have some preference to someone from Eastern Europe or Africa or Asia? Merely because your country of origin is next door to us? Do other countries such as Mexico merely allow anyone to show up and do as they wish, without any acknowledgement of immigration laws? Talk about double standards…

    • some student

      (Serious question, no snark:) How do you feel about the term “unauthorized alien?” That turns up in US law, and doesn’t seem as stigmatizing as “illegal alien” because it doesn’t imply that the person is illegal, just the act.

      • Calipenguin

        Ever since the Ridley Scott Alien movies came out the illegals have hated the word “alien”. Something about parasites feeding off an unsuspecting host hit uncomfortably close to home.

  • AnOski

    As a regular reader and a UC Berkeley student, I’d just like to add that this decision strikes me as preposterous, and does the newspaper and its staff a disservice by making it painfully obvious that its future coverage of certain issues will not be impartial and will reflect poor journalism.

    I am, for all intents and purposes, a Democrat. I believe in liberal social policies, foreign relations that don’t involve blowing most people up, and am generally a proponent of at least minor federal wealth redistribution in the form of taxes and the benefits they afford the lower classes. Everyone else is entitled to their opinions on such matters, but as someone actually in the top 1% of the country’s earners (albeit, in the lowest ~10% of that group), the additional taxes are annoying, but affordable. I’d be happier paying them if I had more faith in how the government chooses to use the money, but…that’s a different issue.

    [And, yes. I'm a student, and I currently own and operate my own business.]

    That said, this “immigration” issue strikes me as an odd one.

    Journalists are meant to cover issues as they are, without bias. This rarely happens. And that’s fine — everyone understands that authors have to have biases and unique perspectives; they’re human, after all.

    The trouble with an editor’s note like the one above is that it plainly states that one perspective of the issue at hand will no longer be represented by the Daily Cal.

    The Daily Cal’s editorial staff has just published an announcement stating that they will no longer be able to cover this topic impartially because they refuse to use the terminology that is currently used — by what is perhaps the majority of the country — to describe it. The term “illegal immigrant” may be offensive to some people. It undoubtedly makes many people uncomfortable. However, it is not a term of bigotry, racism, or prejudice. The term “illegal immigrant” does single out a group(s) of people who live and work in this country in a manner that is not in accordance with this nation’s laws.

    As many other readers have pointed out, it is, for all intents and purposes, accurate.

    How you choose to refer to such people is up to you, Daily Cal. But making a point of posting a purely political statement like this one is in very poor taste for a newspaper.

    As a critically-thinking, yet liberally-minded person, I’ve lost respect for you.

    The same goes for all of the other “conservative” commenters who keep going on about “liberals,” “left” and crap like that. Socially, the Republican party is attempting to enforce totalitarian policies. Stop picking and choosing where to be conservative and where to be liberal, while still calling yourselves conservatives. It’s not true any more.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rosa-Hernandez/100001006597869 Rosa Hernandez

      I think what the Daily Cal is getting at is that the term “illegal alien/ immigrant”, which I gather you seem to prefer for the sake of impartial journalism, is not exactly as impartial or politically unbiased as you’ve been lead to believe. Rather it is mobilized by right-wing anti-immigrant groups to try to construct the immigration debate in the their favor by making claims to the “Law” while ignoring how complicated, unstable, and problematic US immigration law really is. I am an undocumented student, I’ve had to deal with immigration issues and immigration agencies all my life, not once has an agency worker or even an immigration document referred to me as an “illegal” this is a term perpetuated by anti-immigrant groups. When my immigration status is discussed by the people who have the right to discuss it it is referred to as “undocumented status” or “without legal status” never am I reduced to being just an “illegal immigrant”.

      • AnOski

        >I think what the Daily Cal is getting at is that the term “illegal alien/ immigrant”, which I gather you seem to prefer for the sake of impartial journalism, is not exactly as impartial or politically unbiased as you’ve been lead to believe.

        Well, it consists primarily of two parts. The first term is “illegal.” It suggests that something is being done illegally, or against the law. We need the context of the second word to make sense of it. “Immigrant.” An immigrant in this case is someone who moves from one country or another with the intent of living there for an extended period of time, if not permanently. In English, the generally accepted term for one who moves to another country without making his or her self known to the government in order to avoid deportation or having to go through the process of naturalization is “illegal immigrant.”

        Which is to say that the person entered the country and is staying here illegally. There is no other simple way to describe the way in which they are staying in this country using the English language. They are not in the US “undocumentedly.” It’s not a word.

        You can beat around the bush with semantics, but the end result is that the folks deemed “illegal immigrants” or “undocumented aliens” are people who are in this country — illegally.

        >Rather it is mobilized by right-wing anti-immigrant groups to try to construct the immigration debate in the their favor by making claims to the “Law” while ignoring how complicated, unstable, and problematic US immigration law really is.

        You can complain about a law, and you can disagree with it — but that doesn’t give you the right to break it. Just because I see something as desirable doesn’t give me the right to go and do it in the face of the law.

        The ultimate social and economic ramifications of illegal immigration are far too complex to understand. It could be a good thing for all I know. However, until the law is changed, the “undocumented” people in this country are “illegal immigrants,” irrespective of politics.

        >I am an undocumented student, I’ve had to deal with immigration issues and immigration agencies all my life,

        Might I suggest going through the naturalization process or moving to a country where you will not have to skirt the laws? If you choose to live illegally within the US, I find it odd that you would complain about “dealing with immigration issues.”

        >not once has an agency worker or even an immigration document referred to me as an “illegal” this is a term perpetuated by anti-immigrant groups.

        The above statement is composed of two ideas that do not actually support each other. 1) is that “some people don’t call me an illegal immigrant” and 2) is that “it is a term perpetuated by anti-immigrant groups.”

        I’m all for immigrants. This country is made of them. My grandparents were all immigrants, and one of my parents wasn’t born here. But, they applied for green cards, waited, went through the proper legal channels, and now they’re all here.

        I think the trouble here is the following: that many of the illegal immigrants today feel entitled to live and work in the US despite the fact that they snuck into this country solely for their own financial gain. While I can understand the motivation, it’s simply not the right way of doing things. People can’t go around taking what they want in the face of laws that are in this case in place for a vast number of reasons. The US couldn’t function with open borders, and people can’t go around taking what they want when doing so is against the law.

        >When my immigration status is discussed by the people who have the right to discuss it it is referred to as “undocumented status” or “without legal status” never am I reduced to being just an “illegal immigrant”.

        Those terms are synonymous for the purposes of this debate. The point of what I said before was that it should be fine for the Daily Cal to use all such terms to describe what is going on.

        When the Daily Cal makes a point of saying that it will no longer use a term ["illegal immigrant"] that is used by one side of the debate, they are effectively stating that they unequivocally support one side of the issue and will not discuss it on fair terms. By not using the term “illegal immigrant,” the Daily Cal is choosing sides. After all, if the Daily Cal had just posted a piece stating that they would no longer use the term “undocumented status,” I’m sure you’d be outraged.

        As it is, I’m just taken aback. Politics aside, the logical term for a person in this country illegally is “illegal immigrant.” Many of the illegal immigrants in this country are indeed well-documented. When the Daily Cal stated that they would no longer use this term, the possibility of objectivity in future published articles on this topic flew out the window.

        I would expect as much from a political organization or undocumented persons’ special interests group. Not an “objective” media source. I am disappointed.

        You folks in the paper have really let me down.

      • Calipenguin

        There is nothing political about proper English. You may be assigning racist intent because of the color of the people who use the term “illegal alien”. For example, Blacks refer to each other with the N-word all the time as a term of endearment, but when a non-Black uses that word he is promptly gifted with a fat lip. Latina mothers sometimes call their daughters “gorda” but if you heard it from a gringo you’d shove a Spanish dictionary down his throat. “Illegal alien” is the proper term to describe people who came to America illegally without paying any fees to prove their intent to stay permanently. And just so you know, most conservatives like myself are not “anti-immigrant” (this is a term invented by illegal aliens to associate themselves with legal immigrants). We value educated and productive immigrants who make America strong. We also value free-spending tourists who come as visitors and leave when their time is up. We recognize that some level of illegal migration will always occur, so the least the DC can do is use proper English to describe illegal aliens.

      • I_h8_disqus

        Citizens realize that the term illegal alien/immigrant has been used by everyone. It isn’t just used by right-wing anti-immigrant groups. Just about everyone on the left or the right supports immigration. It is at the core of this country. What we don’t support is illegal activity. So we don’t support illegal immigration, and the people who immigrate illegally are illegal immigrants. What your mom did was illegal. So call it illegal just like the major news organizations and law abiding citizens.

      • Guest

        When my immigration status is discussed by the people who have the right to discuss it it is referred to as “undocumented status” or “without legal status” never am I reduced to being just an “illegal immigrant”.

        LOL. Who are you to say who can discuss your illegal status?

        Any legal American citizen or immigrant has the right to discuss your law-breaking behavior when you refuse to self-deport yourself and wait in line like all legal immigrants have done.

  • JDawg

    While we’re at it– I’d really appreciate it if the Daily Cal would refer to white students at UC Berkeley as minorities since it’s a fact.

  • Former SEB

    I cannot believe this semester’s Senior Editorial Board. Bad decision followed by bad decision. This is a spineless move that does nothing but decrease the accuracy in good reporting. Stop being touchy-feely cowards and get back to unbiased, objective journalism.

  • Guest

    “In recent years, some mainstream news sources, including the Miami
    Herald and the San Antonio News-Express, have stopped using the term while others, like the Associated Press and The New York Times, have refused to drop the term.”

    LOL. So you Daily idiots think you’re better than the Associated Press and the LIBERAL New York Times? Stupid narcissists, all of you on the Senior Editorial Board.

  • Papa Bear

    Yeah. We should not call it what it is because we don’t want to offend. An ‘alien’ or “immigrant” is someone in this country who is not a citizen. Someone in this country without the proper documentation is here illegally. Hence, “illegal alien”. Simple. Quit it with changing the proper terminology for political correctness. You’re just encouraging more of such behavior by giving in..

    • DrBerekely

      Sure, Papa — ignore all the reasoning and just reiterate your hate. I assume you are a native american.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WRACM77JT2RXUR3LMGDPPUGUYY Tony M

        I assume you’re some spelling-challenged idiot troll, Dr “Berekely”…

      • Papa Bear

        Don’t you get it, Doc? Someone who comes into the country without papers is automatically here illegally. On its face, prima facie, self evident… illegal.
        So call the truth, hate if you wish. But the truth really is just the truth.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WRACM77JT2RXUR3LMGDPPUGUYY Tony M

    Once again, the intellectual dishonesty of the Left is on display for all to see. The refusal to use the proper term of “illegal alien” to describe a foreign national not legally in this country (which is defined in Section 8 of the US Code) is nothing more than an attempt to mislead others about their true intention. The Left has a vested interest in increasing the number of foreign nationals and subverting our election laws so these people can be herded into the voting booth and support Democrat politicians on Election Day. Any Cal student with half a brain and a clue should be outraged. Of course, those cowed into Political Correctness won’t say a thing, so the rest of need to speak up and expose this fraud at every opportunity.

  • Guest

    “Only the court system, not reporters and editors, can decide when a
    person has committed an illegal act,” the resolution states.

    Are illegal aliens here in the country legally? NO!

    The correct term is “illegal”, you brain-dead idiots.

    • DrBerkeley

      The fact that this pisses you off, just makes it sweeter that the DC is doing this. Thanks for sharing.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WRACM77JT2RXUR3LMGDPPUGUYY Tony M

        Looks like you’re the one most pissed off here, and incapable of winning an argument. That’s why you chose your handle, right? You want to posture as some type of educated intellectual even though you can’t do much better than some snot-nosed adolescent in the argumentation department.

  • Guest

    Stephanie Baer, thank you for being honest about how the Daily Cal likes coddling lawbreakers like that idiot Chancellor Birgeneau.

  • Guest

    “Sometimes we have to take a step back, question the language we use and consider how it shapes public discourse.”

    Translation: Yeah, let’s be transparent about how we’ve thrown neutrality out the window and now blatantly push our liberal agenda in all our articles.

    • DrBerkeley

      You got lots of places to go get your “hate everyone who isn’t white or straight” new — you don’t need the DC. I’m sure you know where Fox news is on your tv. Go to it.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WRACM77JT2RXUR3LMGDPPUGUYY Tony M

        Yeah, right, everyone who doesn’t agree with you is a racist or sexist or homophobe, right?

        Your type of reasoning is what we can expect from sniveling cowards who have to silence dissenting points of view because they can’t support their own position with facts or logic.

  • Guest


    What’s in a name? For my friends and simpaticos in the immigration
    reform community, enough to go ballistic at the mere mention of the
    phrase: “illegal immigrant.”

    First, there’s enough to
    be afraid of in this world — from big government to monsters under the
    bed. We shouldn’t be afraid of words. And when it comes time to declare a
    word or phrase offensive, we should be careful to do so judiciously and
    not go overboard.

    That’s my advice to my
    very good friend and business partner, Charles Garcia, for whom I have
    great affection and tremendous respect. He’s my brother from another
    mother. That’s true even on the rare occasion when he’s wrong. And
    that’s the case this week now that Charlie has written, in a
    thought-provoking column for CNN.com,
    that the phrase “illegal immigrant” is “biased” and “racially
    offensive.” He also implied that it’s a “slur” and — borrowing language
    from George Orwell — a “worn-out and useless phrase.”

    Ruben Navarrette Jr.

    Actually, it’s none of
    the above. The phrase is accurate. It’s the shoe that fits. It’s
    reality. And, as is often the case with reality, it’s hard for some
    people to accept.

    Apparently, that includes
    people like Justice Sonia Sotomayor who, in her first opinion on the
    Supreme Court — in a 2009 case called Mohawk Industries v. Carpenter,
    which involved a business accused of employing illegal immigrants —
    used the term “undocumented immigrant.” According to The New York Times,
    this was the first time that a Supreme Court justice had used that phrase. Other justices had previously gone with “illegal immigrant.”

    Undocumented immigrant?
    Really? That’s politically correct, but it’s also absurd. Most of these
    people have plenty of documents. A woman who makes a living cleaning
    homes in my neighborhood once explained to me that she had a drawer full
    of fake green cards and IDs saying she was — pick one — a native-born
    U.S. citizen, legal resident or exchange student. Many illegal
    immigrants have Matricula ID cards issued by Mexican consulates, foreign
    passports, drivers licenses in some states and phony Social Security
    cards where all nine digits are “0’s.”

    Obama: U.S. needs immigration reform

    Lawmaker to Bieber: Remember your papers

    Romney hammers Obama on immigration

    Ariz. Gov. Brewer: This is not the end

    Garcia: Why “illegal immigrant” is a slur

    This isn’t about
    documents. It has been my experience that many of those who have trouble
    with the phrase “illegal immigrant” are really troubled by something
    deeper — the fact that, at the end of the day, by supporting a pathway
    to earned legal status, they’re defending a group of people who engaged
    in unlawful activity. For some folks, this is messy business. So they
    try to sanitize it by changing the language.

    As a columnist, I don’t
    mind messy. I have never used “illegal aliens,” and I never will. And I
    don’t use “illegal” as a noun. But, like many other journalists,
    including those at CNN, I do use “illegal immigrant.” And I refuse to
    accept that doing so is tantamount to a hate crime. I don’t want to
    demean anyone. But, as someone who makes his living with words, I’d also
    prefer not to degrade the English language.

    Besides, in more than 20
    years of writing about illegal immigrants — oops, there, I said it
    again — I’ve been accused of defending lawbreakers thousands of times. I
    plead guilty as charged. I don’t condone illegal immigration, but I do
    often defend illegal immigrants who are unfairly exploited, picked on
    and blamed for everything from crime to pollution to the quality of
    public schools.

    As Charlie correctly
    points out in the part of the column with which I agree, a lot of that
    nonsense comes from the Republican Party and shameful politicians who
    think that raising our blood pressure over illegal immigration is a
    shortcut to helping them raise their poll numbers and raise funds from
    contributors. I’ve spanked many of these officials before, and I look
    forward to the next opportunity.

    For the record, I’m not
    against high blood pressure. I’ve been known to raise it myself. I think
    that, if people are upset that our immigration system is broken, they
    have a right to be angry. But I also think they should direct their
    anger at government and politicians, and not at the immigrants

    I also think that
    illegal immigrants are more of a positive than a negative. They make a
    contribution to the U.S. economy, do jobs Americans won’t do, replenish
    the American spirit with hope and optimism and often raise good kids
    with a work ethic and strong traditional values that put the native-born
    to shame. They’re not a liability. They’re an asset.

    Naturalized citizens explain why they’re American by choice

    But, c’mon. These people
    are not saints. With the exception of DREAM Act kids involuntarily
    brought here by their parents, these people did something wrong. Illegal
    immigrants either overstayed a visa or crossed a border without
    authorization. That was wrong. Then many of them doubled down on the
    misdeed by using fake documents to procure employment or not paying
    income taxes on money earned, even though the federal government has set
    up an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number that allows illegal
    immigrants to pay taxes.

    If that sounds harsh,
    blame my upbringing. I’m the grandson of a Mexican immigrant who came to
    the United States legally during the Mexican Revolution and my father
    spent 36 years as a cop. It’s in my DNA to not make excuses for

    My friends in the
    immigration reform community need to get over their uneasiness and stop
    sugar coating who these people are and what they’ve done to get here. We
    can’t fix the problem of illegal immigration until we deal with it
    honesty and candidly.

    As Charlie mentioned,
    Justice Anthony Kennedy has an interesting take on illegal immigration,
    which he incorporated into the majority opinion in the recent Supreme
    Court decision striking down most of the Arizona immigration law.
    Kennedy wrote: “As a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable
    alien to remain present in the United States.”

    True. But “present”
    doesn’t just happen. The estimated 10 million illegal immigrants who are
    unlawfully in the United States didn’t just appear one day like the
    genie out of Aladdin’s lamp. Like the old saying goes: “If you see a
    turtle resting on a fence post, you can be sure someone put it there. It
    didn’t get there by itself.”

    At some point in time,
    again with the exception of DREAM’ers, someone did something bad. That
    doesn’t make them bad people. But they broke the law. We’re not talking
    about criminal law, and so they’re not “criminals.” Immigration law is
    based in civil law, and that’s why those who break it get deported and
    not imprisoned. But these people are still lawbreakers, and — by
    definition — illegal immigrants.

    Sorry, Charlie.

    • JDawg

      Excellent summary!

    • Gary

      blah blah blah blah