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ImmigrationProf Blog

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What Part of ‘Illegal’ Don’t You Understand?...

Lawrence Downes on the word illegal and the mood in America today on illegal aliens

Good thing I am not an illegal immigrant. There is no way out of that trap. It’s the crime you can’t make amends for. Nothing short of deportation will free you from it, such is the mood of the country today. And that is a problem.

America has a big problem with illegal immigration, but a big part of it stems from the word “illegal.” It pollutes the debate. It blocks solutions. Used dispassionately and technically, there is nothing wrong with it. Used as an irreducible modifier for a large and largely decent group of people, it is badly damaging. And as a code word for racial and ethnic hatred, it is detestable.

“Illegal” is accurate insofar as it describes a person’s immigration status. About 60 percent of the people it applies to entered the country unlawfully. The rest are those who entered legally but did not leave when they were supposed to. The statutory penalties associated with their misdeeds are not insignificant, but neither are they criminal. You get caught, you get sent home.


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