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Illegal, Unauthorized, or Undocumented?

Ampersand has decided to ban the term "illegals" from his blog, and to frown upon the term "illegal immigrant." He notes that his preferred alternative is "unauthorized migrant," but in the spirit of calling people what they want to be called, he will defer to the emerging consensus around "undocumented immigrant."

While I agree with the call-people-what-they-want-to-be-called principle, I think there's a good substantive case that progressives should favor "undocumented" over "unauthorized." "Unauthorized" takes the harshly judgmental sting out of "illegal." But it still puts the focus on the idea that they're doing something wrong. "Undocumented," however, puts the focus on the condition that makes them vulnerable to various forms of hardship and exploitation. I think progressives who want to be allies of the people in question should want to foreground the latter.

In other immigration-related news, yesterday my wife pointed out an inaccuracy in my post about a study showing that undocumented immigrants had the same crime rate as citizens. The study compared the percent of Maricopa County's population that's estimated to be undocumented to the percent of people booked by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office who are subject to ICE holds. But it's not just undocumented people who are subject to ICE holds -- people with visas or green cards or other forms of status may also be turned over to ICE if their crime makes them potentially deportable. So undocumented people appear to be arrested disproportionately *less* often than citizens.


Blogger Alon Levy said...

But the term "Illegal immigrant" is exactly accurate. It's not true that illegal equals undocumented; if I'm not mistaken, most illegal immigrants in the US arrived legally but overstayed their visas, making them documented.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Stentor said...

You're right that there are lots of people who entered legally and are now subject to deportation. But 99.9% of the time, when someone says "illegal immigrant," they're talking about people who are undocumented.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Alon Levy said...

True... and making a distinction between the two could actually be a good pro-immigrant strategy. For a start, it could get people to drop the idea that a border fence is an effective strategy.

On the other hand, it might lead nativists to prescribe more visa harassment. The thinking is that hour-long immigration lines at JFK will make potential illegal immigrants from China, Israel, and the Dominican Republic decide to stay in their home countries.

3:15 PM  

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