How banning 3 useful word undermines immigration reform

Ting Jan

On April 2, 2013, the Associated Press announced amendments to its style book, effectively banning the use of the word “illegal” to describe a person as in “an illegal immigrant.” This announcement was followed by similar pronouncements from other news sources, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Denver Post.

Why should a useful and descriptive word be banished? My Webster’s dictionary defines “illegal” as “not according to or authorized by law” and also “not sanctioned by official rules”. Black’s Law Dictionary, which is commonly used by lawyers and law students, actually defines an “illegal alien” as “An alien who enters a country at the wrong time or place, eludes an examination by officials, obtains entry by fraud, or enters into a sham marriage to evade immigration laws.”

I regard these actions to banish “illegal” as a concerted effort to blur the distinction between legal immigrants and illegal immigrants, as if their immigration status and U.S. immigration law shouldn’t matter at all. I see these actions as in direct support of the on-going effort to enact an amnesty for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, and to prevent the application of current U.S immigration law to them.

Perhaps encouraged by the successful banishment of the word “illegal”, immigration lawyer Careen Shannon says we should also stop using the word “alien” to describe foreigners because that term is now associated with extraterrestrial aliens in science fiction literature and movies. Like provincial Americans might actually think foreigners in the U.S. come from other planets?

“Alien” is another useful and descriptive word that we should not abandon in pursuit of political correctness. Black’s Law Dictionary defines “alien” as “A person who is not a citizen of a given country; a person not owing allegiance to a particular nation.”

The current immigration statute of the United States expressly defines “alien” as meaning “any person not a citizen or national of the United States.” The statute contains hundreds of references to “alien,” so banishing the term from our law would be a major undertaking. We can’t just substitute “non-citizen” for “alien” because there are non-citizen nationals of the United States, like the residents of American Samoa, who are neither citizens nor aliens.

Careen Shannon concludes, “Let’s just call them people.” Hey, if we’re all just people without distinctions, who needs immigration laws?

Finally, the supporters of amnesty for illegal aliens in the U.S., like U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio OF Florida, insist that we shouldn’t call his proposal “amnesty”, because, “Amnesty is the forgiveness of something.” His bill is instead “comprehensive immigration reform” and “a pathway to citizenship” for the illegal. Right.

The last time the U.S. enacted a big amnesty for illegal aliens in the U.S., in 1986, Senator Rubio was a teenager in high school. At that time, everyone including the sponsors called it what it was, an amnesty. Black’s Law Dictionary actually gives as an example for “amnesty”: “the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act provided amnesty for undocumented aliens already present in the country.”

Because the 1986 amnesty encouraged much greater illegal immigration to the U.S., causing the current demand for an even bigger amnesty, the current sponsors would prefer to somehow distinguish their proposal from the 1986 amnesty. But the current proposal is substantively indistinguishable from the 1986 amnesty, and certainly does provide “forgiveness of something.”

The proponents and supporters of amnesty and increased immigration to the U.S. are trying to prevent the use of common descriptive terms to describe the substance of their proposal. If the American people understand the substance of so-called “comprehensive immigration reform”, they will prevent their representatives in Congress from enacting it into law.

Jan Ting is a Professor of Law at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law and a former Assistant Commissioner for Refugees, Asylum and Parole, Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Department of Justice. He can be reached at [email protected]

  • Mary

    Mr. Ting is correct. If a person who has been violating our immigration laws gains any kind of legal status without facing the current penalties and remedies under the laws, that IS amnesty. And this amnesty comes with a huge reward, the awarding of legal status when it is not warranted under current law. Most people in the country illegally have violated numerous laws. When our system looks the other way and does not prosecute these violations and instead gives legal status, that is amnesty. We are talking about immigration fraud (lying to immigration officers), entry without inspection, forgery, perjury (i-9 forms), identity theft, driving without insurance or registration or license, working illegally, misuse of a social security number, overstaying a visa, entry after deportation ( a felony). The proposed immigration reform even pardons false claims to US citizenship, for which the current penalty is a permanent ban from the US. So yes, this is a huge amnesty for many law violations.

    Why don’t we have representative that represent US citizens instead of foreigners who have barged into our country? Why should we have any immigration whatsoever while millions are under or unemployed? Why are more people not asking these questions?

  • Barbara Griffith

    One of the reasons most people don’t ask these questions is because of being afraid of being called a raciest. This how organizations like La Raza and many others get away with what they do. This is how these organizations have learned to control the public. Look at how many sob stories the media has run depicting a Latino family crying about the father being deported and the family is all alone. The media never go on to finish the story of the family getting food stamps, housing, medical from a county agency because they have kids that are born here in the US now being newly minted US citizens. I might add eligible for every taxpayer paid service the welfare offices offer to citizens. These illegals have been gaming the system for years. They are told just how to do it before they ever sneak across the border. The first thing they do is pop a little jackpot and they have it made. The more educated Hispanics like lawyers and politicians, college professors especially in California just want to take over the US by the numbers, this amnesty would just speed it up a little.
    The US census has said according the the large numbers of births by immigrants I would assume illegals was included in this that in 2 or 3 decades the white population will be a minority in their own country. The report didn’t use the term I just used “minority” but that is what they meant.

    All of this because of the change of our immigration laws in the 1960s. When that was done it was the beginning of the end of the United States as our grandparents knew it and as most of the population of the US knows it. I refer to it as the late great USA.

  • Dan Kantos

    The popular movement in our country known as the progressives have effectively been changing not only the use of language in our country, the meaning of words, but they have changed the actual form of our government and country. We are a Republic not a Democracy. The former is a government by the rule of law and the latter a rule by people. The reason for the former is because the latter has always ended in a violent manner. Rule by law, lets all parties, be it the government or the citizens a balance to live by. The rule by people generally ends in mob rule. The lack of enforcement of our laws destroys our government, country and way of life.