Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'You can call it an illegal act': More readers on 'illegal' vs. 'undocumented'

A t-shirt worn at an immigrant student activists' event in Orange County, March 10, 2011
A t-shirt worn at an immigrant student activists' event in Orange County, March 10, 2011

Earlier this week, KPCC's Public Insight Network asked members what term they use to decribe immigrants who are in the United States wihout permission: Illegal immigrant, undocumented immigrant, or "other."

The terminology of illegal immigration as it's applied to people is a long-running one, especially in newsrooms, but it's received renewed attention lately after former Washington Post journalist-turned-activist Jose Antonio Vargas recently challenged the New York Times and Associated Press to stop using "illegal." The news organizations have responded in defense and clarified why they use the term, along with others.

The Public Insight Network query asked people not only what term they use and why, but what personal experiences inform their decision to call these immigrants illegal, undocumented, or none of the above. The responses were interesting, with several people explaining how their background influences their words.

A majority of those respondents chose "undocumented," and their responses were posted yesterday. But on this site, the reaction has been the opposite, with readers commenting that they prefer "illegal," a term that some consider too political charged, even a slur. Here, three readers explain* why they still use it:

Jmfay wrote:

Illegal has a specific meaning in that it's not something people should be doing. You can call it an illegal act; or a person an illegal and you understand the meaning very clearly. 

A lot of people prefer calling a spade a spade. When you have so many people flaunting the law when you have to abide by it or you are in serious trouble; you just prefer calling something / someone what it is.

Terry T. Magyar wrote:

Children may have been FORCED to come here undocumented, but upon their 18th birthday, they have a responsibility to comply with the law. Immigration law requires them to go home, get in line and get LEGAL. If they don't, their undocumented status becomes ILLEGAL upon age 18 1/2.*

And Bennyvolant Huang wrote:

"Illegal alien" to be used for those who cross the border "illegally" with their free-will. After all, they did commit an illegal act by entering USA without proper status.

Children who came with their parents can be termed "undocumented," for they were obviously too young to know they had committed an illegal act.

With so many important issues facing us, hope immigration reform can really make it to the plate of Federal government in the next 4 years.

I being a legal immigrant from Asia, came to USA with my parents in 1983, maintained legal status (not an easy task in itself) and finally was able to "EARN" my Green Card this year in August. I attend public high school and graduated from Cal Poly Pomona. And I thank USA and CA for this education.

While I understand and appreciate the non-legal immigrants' contribution to this state and nation, and understand their desire and "right" to want to have a better life for their family, we cannot deny their presence here is putting a heavy burden on taxpayers. Even worse, there are those who would take advantage of the welfare system, and that's not right.*

USA really need to make it easier for those who want to come here easier, so they can come legally and contribute freely. Instead of falling prey to the smugglers, that's just a great pity.

* Responses are lightly copyedited, but not corrected for legal and factual accuracy. These are opinions only.

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