Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Is 'illegal immigrant' a slur?

So states the title of a CNN guest opinion piece this morning, written by Latino marketing guru Charles Garcia. While making clear that he believes it is, Garcia points out something interesting about the language in the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision regarding SB 1070, Arizona's 2010 anti-illegal immigration law, one provision of which was upheld by the court.

The debate over the use of "illegal" in news media is a long-running one, with the Associated Press continuing to embrace "illegal immigrant" in its stylebook while immigrant advocates, some professional journalists' organizations and others opt for "undocumented." The term "unauthorized," often used in research and academia, has also gained favor. From the piece:

Last month's Supreme Court decision in the landmark Arizona immigration case was groundbreaking for what it omitted: the words "illegal immigrants" and "illegal aliens," except when quoting other sources. The court's nonjudgmental language established a humanistic approach to our current restructuring of immigration policy.

When you label someone an "illegal alien" or "illegal immigrant" or just plain "illegal," you are effectively saying the individual, as opposed to the actions the person has taken, is unlawful.

The terms imply the very existence of an unauthorized migrant in America is criminal.

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