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

Making a case for 'unauthorized' immigrants

Now that the "illegal" vs. "undocumented" debate is back in the news this week following the Oscars, during which actress Natalie Portman said "undocumented" in her Best Actor presentation speech, the alternate term "unauthorized" is getting virtual ink as well.

Some see the term, long used by academics and researchers who study immigration, as a more neutral way to describe immigrants who don"t have permission to be in the U.S. "Illegal" is seen by some, including some professional journalists' associations, as being too politically loaded, while the most common alternative, "undocumented," is viewed by critics as a euphemism.

In a piece published in the Huffington Post, immigration attorney and Bender"s Immigration Bulletin editor Dan Kowalski writes:

You'll notice I used the term "unauthorized." I prefer that to "undocumented" because, to be honest, many unauthorized aliens do indeed have documents -- fake ones.

Plus, unauthorized sends a clear message that something is wrong, without diving into the lake of punitive, pejorative metaphors.

...And, perhaps most importantly, "unauthorized" suggests the possibility of change, the ability of an authority (Congress) to change the legal status of the migrant. Even under today's statute, an unauthorized migrant may, through court order or agency decision, be granted relief from deportation through such means as asylum, cancellation of removal, and T and U visa statuses. From illegal to legal by the stroke of a pen.

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