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

Readers weigh in on 'illegal,' 'undocumented,' 'unauthorized'

A sign that reads
A sign that reads "No human is illegal," San Francisco, July 2008
Photo by Steve Rhodes/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A post yesterday has generated a passionate discussion in the comments section - and will undoubtedly do so today on air when we take up the illegal/undocumented/unauthorized debate on 89.3 KPCC's AirTalk this morning, a discussion that callers are invited to join.

Some background: The Associated Press recently updated its official style, followed by many mainstream media organizations, on the terms used to refer to immigrants living and working in the U.S. without legal authorization. While the AP doesn't condone the use of "illegal aliens," "illegals" or "an illegal" to refer to someone without papers, the update clarified that it also does not sanction the use of "undocumented," still preferring "illegal immigrant."

"Undocumented" is the preferred term used by immigrant advocates, who view "illegal" as demeaning, and is already used by various news outlets (the Los Angeles Times, for example, explained recently that it uses both "undocumented" and "illegal"). Some professional journalists' organizations have also taken a stand. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists has had a policy for some time that supports the use of "undocumented." In September, the Society of Professional Journalists adopted a resolution recommending that newsrooms drop both "illegal alien" and "illegal immigrant."

"Ilegal" also tends to be the preferred term for those who favor immigration restrictions. Others, including some academics, prefer the use of "unauthorized," which they deem more politically neutral than the other two terms, while still being technically correct.

Yesterday I asked readers to weigh in. Here are their thoughts:

Dsantos90 started the conversation off yesterday, writing:

Calling minors who were taken from one country to another without their will, which is 100,000s of kids in this country by "illegal" is slander. They didnt break the law themselves. It allows the media and thus the public to antagonize kids who may otherwise be regarded as upright citizens.

These "illegals" are the unrecognized citizens of America. The disenfranchised. "Illegals" rings of Nazi's calling Jews all sorts of antagonizing slurs just to ease the dehumanization that seems to be on the political agenda.

He added in a follow-up note:

Further, crossing the border without documents isnt because people like you and me want to risk their lives in a desert without belongings, and leave their families behind because they think it'll be an exciting field trip. They are not going into america to make the big bucks following their dreams of being lawers -even though they may have such dreams- we're talking about a huge movement of people, from South america to north america specifically, that is happening as a direct result of political decisions on economy made by the 1%, that is, by politicians who are completely disconnected from this population of people in their country.

Now because of economic strife as a result of those decisions, and a desire for labor in countries like USA, we see immigration happening, and to exploit these laborers for all their worth, the US likes to antagonize them with the term "illegal" just enough for no one to give them rights, but enough to keep them in kitchens, farms, and construction sites like the pre civil rights blacks before them. We are all human beings, lets treat each other like it so that we can progress the species collectively eh? "United we stand" does not refer to a corner of the planet, even though the slogan is used by it, it's all of us living here together.

Michael Ray replied to Dsantos90 with this comment:

If what you are writing is correct when we as humans truly have no further need for countries or boarders. While I agree that this issue is about exploiting people as cheap labor, it is also a situation where people are volunteering to be exploited for their own personal reasons.

In most countries that permit individuals to vote the power rests with the people. If their government does something or maintains a policy that most of the people don’t like then they can change it by removing the elected representative that doesn’t represent their views. By the way most Black people prior to the American civil war were property. They had NO CHIOCE to come or go as they pleased!!! It did not matter whether they had family to feed or they wanted to pursue their dreams. Their descendents went on to fight for their rights under the law and defined civil rights for all Americans. Your comparison to what they went though is offensive, hurtful and it cheapens the lives they endured. You disrespect them and their descendents with your comparison.

Brittanicus, a commenter/spammer who often pastes the same lengthy message into the comments section, pasted in his familiar pro-E-Verify message, which begins:


It drew this response from prado4587:

Stop demanding and consuming the goods and services produced by illegal aliens and/or increase the number of immigration visas for the workers that come/stay here illegally to produce the goods and services that we demand and consume. Doing either or both would be much cheaper and would avoid the massive intrusive collection of personal data now included in the most recent version of HR 2885, The bill needlessly expands government control over businesses and individuals at all levels of the economy. Conservatives and liberals alike who believe in maintaining at least some degree of privacy in the face of government-mandated databases and efforts to force employers to obtain Uncle Sam’s permission before hiring someone should strongly oppose this legislation.


Billie Greenwood posted, simply:


No human being is illegal. Period.


The most recent comment is from TVMUSIC RECORDS, who this morning wrote (addressing, perhaps more than anyone, the language terms) a message I've edited only slightly for profanity reasons:


Tomato, tomato.  Ilegal, unducumented... who gives a cr*p?  the reality remains the same, these are foreign nationals, without any legal permission to be in this country and as such, MUST BE REMOVED.  If they truly want to live and work here, they must enter legally, otherwise they must be deported.  And when they scream that we are separating families, tell them to take their kids with them back to Mexico, because no one is preventing them from taking their families with them.


And with that, we'll take the discussion on air. Tune in to 89.3 KPCC FM in Southern California at around 11:25 a.m. Pacific to listen.