Advocates of greater immigration enforcement and tighter immigration laws generally, support the use of terms, such as “illegal aliens,” “illegal immigrants”, or simply “illegals.” (There are other pejorative terms used by partisans in the immigration debate, such as “anchor babies,” but let us leave those labels aside for now). These are loaded terms that are, for the most part, nowhere to be found in the comprehensive federal immigration law, the Immigration & Nationality Act. I say loaded because these terms equate the unauthorized immigrant with a criminal when the person may not have committed a crime at all. Still, the reference to “illegal” instantly suggests that the person is undeserving of sympathy but in fact deserves punishment. Not surprisingly, advocates who favor harsh treatment for immigrants support the use of terms and rhetoric that support their restrictionist positions.
The “illegal” terminology obscures an even more troubling characteristic. Somewhere around 60-70 percent of today’s unauthorized immigrants are from Mexico and Central America. “Illegal aliens” in many instances can serve as a kind of racial code for Latinos. People can speak of wanting to remove “illegal aliens” from the country with legitimacy while they could not argue for the removal of all Latinos.
A responsible and independent media should want to avoid using terms supporting one side in the culture wars, especially when those terms mask racial animus.