How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Readers vote for 'unauthorized' as term to use for immigrants in US without permission

Screen shot from Multi-American

A mini-poll in a post earlier this week asked readers what they think is the most appropriate term to use when referring to immigrants who are in the United States without permission: illegal, undocumented, or unauthorized.

And while you can hardly call the handful of responses that came in a representative sample, it was interesting to see that four out of five who voted chose "unauthorized."

The term isn't used much in media, being more popular in academia and among researchers. "Unauthorized" is commonly used in reports put out by the Pew Hispanic Center, for example, and by others who study immigration. 

But with "illegal" considered by some to be too politically charged and a demeaning term when used to describe people, and with "undocumented" considered by others to be a euphemism that isn't entirely correct, "unauthorized" is described by those who favor it as the most neutral term to use in the heated conversation that surrounds illegal immigration.

Here is how author, linguist and UCLA Chicano studies professor Otto Santa Ana explained it in a post on this site some time ago:

”When you say ‘illegal immigrant,’ you are labeling the individual as inherently bad. You do not call a pedestrian who jaywalks an illegal pedestrian. The kid who plays hooky is not an illegal student.

On the other hand, to call someone ‘undocumented’ softpedals the serious issue of crossing the border without documents. It is a euphemism…It is perfectly appropriate for partisans to take on a position or another, but not for the media to characterize immigrants as illegal or undocumented.”

Like those who voted for it, he opts for "unauthorized."

Thoughts, anyone? Please weigh in.

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