Home / General / “Illegal”



Luis Feliz and the immigration advocates trying to eliminate the word “illegal” from our discourse on immigration are absolutely right–the word demonizes human beings and is deeply hurtful and damaging. Describing human beings as “illegal” should be eliminated from the lexicon and seen as we see other racial epithets that are unacceptable in respectable conversation.

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  • LeeEsq

    Immigration lawyers and advocates prefer the te undocumentated.

    • Much more humane and a perfectly accurate legal description.

      • advokat

        But calling them “undocumented” isn’t accurate either.

        They have documents – forged ones.

        • LeftWingFox

          Expired is more the norm.

          • Shakezula

            Yes. I believe expired is a misdemeanor (or less) and the forged is a felony.

        • LeeEsq

          No, most undocumentated have any papers forged or otherwise.

      • L2P

        More accurate? Not really. Everyone has documents, eventually. Some documents just say something like “Detained” or “Deported” or “No entry allowed.”

        What they lack aren’t documents, but documents providing them a legal right to enter the US. And the documents themselves are irrelevant; I doubt any immigration attorney is going to roll over and let clients be deported because they don’t have their visa on them when they get picked up.

    • Data Tutashkhia

      Yeah, sans papiers. But after a while it’ll sound just as derogatory as any other word. It’s the concept, not the word.

      • Imbecile, moron, and mentally retarded were all medical terms that became playground taunts. Now the kids call you “special” if they want to make fun of you.

    • PSP

      Have they given any consideration to just how close that is to “With Out Papers” and the acronym derived from it?

      • TribalistMeathead

        Don’t you mean “the urban legend derived from it”?

      • Backronym, not acronym. The OED’s etymologists’ best guess is

        Origin uncertain; perhaps < Italian dialect guappo bold, showy, ruffian, < Spanish guapo bold, dandy, < Latin vappa sour wine, worthless fellow.

        but it’s notable that their first in-print citation spells it wap.

    • TWBB

      Undocumented is inaccurate, just like illegal. The documents in themselves don’t establish any legal rights, they’re just physical indicators that such rights were granted.

      Personally I find both sides of the immigration debate annoying. Those on the anti- side refuse to recognize that in many cases the same arguments were made against their own grandparents and great-grandparents. Those on the pro- side refuse to disclose exactly what they’re looking for; unrestricted immigration? Because in many cases that’s what the logical extension of what they’re arguing for.

      • Bitter Scribe

        There’s a middle ground between unrestricted immigration and the clusterfuck system now in place. If we would raise quotas from, say, Mexico to realistic levels instead of the laughably low ones that now exist, we would be on much firmer moral ground when we started to enforce those limits.

        That said, what would be so terrible about unrestricted, or nearly unrestricted, immigration?

        • Murc

          That said, what would be so terrible about unrestricted, or nearly unrestricted, immigration?

          My great-grandfather was an illiterate sicilian with no skills at all. The only things he had to do to legally get into the country, if I recall correctly, was to actually GET here, have a clean criminal record, and get someone to vouch for him. (And I’m not sure about the latter.) Every good thing my family has subsequently enjoyed, from my grandfathers good union job on the railroads to my father being able to be the first in his family to attend college, stems from the fact that the country said “hey, you want to come here and work, go ahead.”

          Denying this opportunity to others based merely on the fact they weren’t born at the proper time seems, not just immoral, but grotesque to me. Especially given that capital is allowed to flow freely across borders.

        • kerFuFFler

          That said, what would be so terrible about unrestricted, or nearly unrestricted, immigration?

          So everyone trying to escape poverty the world over should just be able to show up here next week and we just accept everybody? Get real.

          My family moved to Mexico (from the US) and you would not believe the conditions and requirements that we had to satisfy to be eligible to move there. I do think we should try to deal with this situation humanely, but when Mexico complains about how we treat their citizens when they are found to be here illegally, we should take it with a grain of salt that they have the moral high ground on this issue. Their treatment of Guatemalan economic refugees into southern Mexico is brutal.

          • This. Other countries most notably in Europe, but also places like Mexico and just about every where else in the world have much stricter and frankly more racist immigration laws than the US. Indeed the US is just about the only country in the world where the children of immigrants whether documented or not automatically become citizens.

        • DrDick

          Certainly does not seem to have destroyed the country during the 19th century, when my ancestors moved here. We had no immigration laws at all until 1882, when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act.

          • kerFuFFler

            And we all know that nothing changes over time. Whatever worked a couple hundred years ago must still be the perfect policy for today!

          • L2P

            We also didn’t have the ability to fly across the world for 1/5 the median income in India and had a relatively small population compared to todays.

            This is what unregulated immigration means, potentially: another 500 million Southeast Asians, 200 million West Africans, and 200 million South And Central Americans. The immigration stops when it’s worse here then where they’re coming from. Where are you planning to put them?

            • DrDick

              Do you really think there are that many who could afford the costs of moving here? If so, I have some swampland in Arizona that I would like to show you.

              I am not actually advocating unregulated immigration, but I also think there is far too much irrational panic (your comment nicely embodies this) on the topic.

              • L2P

                So you’re saying that 20% of the people in the undeveloped world lack both the means and desire to emigrate? That seems . . . unlikely, given that the median income is over $1200 in India and Nigeria, for example. You’re just taking the upper middle class at that point.

                But so I’m off by 200 Million. Now you only have to find room for 700 Million people, not a billion. No problem there, right?

            • Malaclypse

              During the Great Famine, when things were Pretty Fucking Bad, and the United states was pretty much open borders for white people, about 12% of Ireland emmigrated. Most humans won’t migrate.

              Also: you put them in the Great Big Empty that is the Midwest.

              Also, too: why do you assume more people won’t equal more economic activity? Want to solve the housing glut yesterday? Let 50 million people in.

              Also, finally:

              Give me your tired, your poor,
              Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
              The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
              Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
              I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

              I believe in that shit.

          • Manju

            Certainly does not seem to have destroyed the country during the 19th century, when my ancestors moved here. We had no immigration laws at all until 1882, when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act.

            We can all agree that it didn’t destroy the country. I’ll go further and say that it benefited the country.

            But the question is one of distribution:

            …it’s clear that the earlier wave of immigration increased inequality and depressed the wages of the less skilled. For example, a recent study by Jeffrey Williamson, a Harvard economic historian, suggests that in 1913 the real wages of unskilled U.S. workers were around 10 percent lower than they would have been without mass immigration.

            -Paul Krugman


            So, this is where the serious debate lies. I understand that David Card has responded with his “natural experiments” while Borjas says the data points to a more dramatic decrease in wages for unskilled natives than previously known.

            • Malaclypse

              We can all agree that it didn’t destroy the country. I’ll go further and say that it benefited the country.

              And I’ll say you are completely right.

              But the question is one of distribution… So, this is where the serious debate lies.

              Also agreed. But if we assume the country as a whole benefits, then a 10% problem at the bottom of the scale is something that, in principle, can be solved through some combination of minimum wage and EITC. So the problem remains one of politics, not economics.

        • DC

          “If we would raise quotas from, say, Mexico to realistic levels instead of the laughably low ones that now exist”

          As far as I can tell Mexicans receive more immigration visas than any other nationality on earth:

          “Realistic levels” under the current system would result in those immigrant visas being significantly reduced; how is it fair that people from far more populous countries like China or India get significantly less visas?

        • Manju

          That said, what would be so terrible about unrestricted, or nearly unrestricted, immigration?

          Quick summary for the argument against*

          1. Low-skilled immigration drives down the wages of the native low-skilled.

          “… while immigration may have raised overall income slightly, many of the worst-off native-born Americans are hurt by immigration — especially immigration from Mexico. Because Mexican immigrants have much less education … they increase the supply of less-skilled labor, driving down the wages of the worst-paid Americans.”

          2. Welfare State:

          “…open immigration can’t coexist with a strong social safety net; if you’re going to assure health care and a decent income to everyone, you can’t make that offer global.”

          3. Income Inequality:

          “…it’s clear that the earlier wave of immigration increased inequality and depressed the wages of the less skilled.”

          *These aren’t necessarily my opinions. I’m just innocently pointing the convo in the right direction. The author of all the quotes is Paul Krugman.

          • kerFuFFler

            Gosh, maybe the GOP will do an about face on immigration reform. After all, it could drive down labor costs and make it necessary for us to abandon our welfare state. Both outcomes would be features rather than bugs!

        • “That said, what would be so terrible about unrestricted, or nearly unrestricted, immigration?”

          The German economy was derailed for a decade when they had to absorb East Germany. Although there may be some clear benefits to immigration, there does also appear to be a clear upper limit beyond which immigration starts to do more harm than good.

    • “Out of status” is also good.

  • advokat

    Calling people “drug dealers” is deeply stigmatizing as well.

    We should refer to them as “undocumented pharmacists”.

    • Philip

      Should we refer to conservative politicians as “well-documented assholes?”

      …actually, I like this.

      • Why restrict it to politicians?

      • Manta

        And they said bipartisanship was dead!

  • CaptBackslap

    I think the most important benefit of the change would be a reduction in the number of people (including many who should know better) who believe being in the country sans papiers is a criminal offense. That belief creates a whole lot of bad assumptions.

    The biggest obstacle will be getting Americans to voluntarily use a five-syllable word.

    • L2P

      Why do you think that’s going to happen because they’re changing a name?

      • CaptBackslap

        Because “undocumented” doesn’t, in itself, bring criminality to mind.

        • L2P

          It doesn’t? So when I say somebody’s driving without a license, you don’t immediately think, “Huh. Somebody’s breaking the law there?”

          I think you guys on the “let’s change the name” thing are really hoping for a lot here.

  • Chesty

    the word [illegal] demonizes human beings

    Nonsense; there is such thing as a difference between legal and non-legal; and it has nothing to do with demons but with the Rule of Law.

    • UserGoogol

      Using the word illegal as a noun or calling someone an illegal immigrant is dehumanizing since the literal grammatical interpretation of that is to say the person is illegal. Which they aren’t. The phrase “illegal immigration,” on the other hand, does not have this problem.

    • Anonymous

      Which is why Chesty feels dandy addressing perfect strangers as, “Ho, Gay!” and “Stop right there, Black.” Just rules of law, or whatever the fuck.

  • Quiddity

    Does Eric Loomis believe that a country should be able to regulate immigration? If not, then I see why he doesn’t like the term “illegal” (because using that term asserts the legitimacy of the law). He should say so explicitly.

    But if he thinks there should be regulation of immigration then those that fail to follow procedures are behaving illegally. Using “undocumented” is a softening of the charge, similar to calling a drug dealer a “pharmaceutical distributor”.

    • LeftWingFox

      From now on, I’ll be referring to murderers, rapists and jaywalkers as illegals. It makes as much sense.

      • Cody

        Did you see the news about more illegals in Stubenville, Ohio?

        I hear those two girls are soon to be determined illegals, along with those illegal boys who raped the girl.

        • Jon H

          All the underage drinkers at those parties were illegals.

        • L2P

          Quite right, they aren’t “illegals.” They’re “convicts,” or “delinquents,” or “felons,” depending on exactly what they’re status is (I haven’t been paying attention.)

          I’m not sure where this is going. Do you want to call convicted criminals “undocumented” because they would be free but for those pesky conviction papers?

        • And I’m sure they would cry themselves to sleep if the press started referring to them using the dehumanizing term “illegals” instead of referring to them as convicted rapists.

    • Hanspeter

      Selling illegal drugs – criminal act
      Overstaying your visa – not a criminal act

      • L2P

        Hey there! I’m Section 1226 of the Aliens and Nationality Code! I’d like to have a few words with you. If you’re still a little confused, my good buddy Section 1253 can come on by.

      • John

        “Illegal” is not a synonym for “criminal.”

    • Malaclypse

      That’s why I refer to all people who drive 66 miles an hour as “illegals.” Rule of Law, motherfuckers!

    • DrDick

      From now on, I will refer to all conservatives as “fuckwitted conservatards” and to nativists as “vile, racist fuckwitted conservatard Know Nothings”. those have the advantage of being accurate descriptors.

    • DC

      I think there is a difference between referring to entering (and staying in) this country without authorization as illegal and referring to the person themselves as “illegal.” It actually is fairly dehumanizing.

      “Undocumented” though goes too far the other way, minimizing the effect that at some point many undocumented workers did in fact knowingly break the law.

  • Uncle Kvetch

    When people start applying the same word to the people who hire the undocumented workers, we can talk.

    • advokat

      Fine by me.

    • Shakezula


    • Don’t think you will get much push-back on that proposal among those on this side of the debate.

  • Carbon Man

    We need to crack down on the border to stop. ILLEGALS from crossing in an ILLEGAL manner. ILLEGALS drive up crime and ILLEGALS depress wages. ILLEGALS ILLEGALS ILLEGALS ILLEGALS.

    • Also too, they’re obviously behind the serious shortage of BOLD FACE CAPITALS.

      • Bitter Scribe

        But italics are mercifully unaffected.

        • Manta

          What about BOLD CAPITAL ITALICS?

    • So basically you’re a fucking asshole

      • Carbon Man

        Here we have it folks. The followers of the religion of Political Correctness will haul off and call someone a “fucking asshole” in a split second, but gets the vapors and clutches their pearls when a perfectly innocuous, non-profane, and accurate term like ILLEGAL is used.

        • If it were perfectly innocuous, you wouldn’t be so obnoxious about clinging to it when someone questioned its accuracy. You protest too much and in doing so prove that it’s meant to be pejorative.

        • Wow for somebody who is against political correctnesss you sure don’t like to be called by what you are

          • And by the way I was merely using the correct legal term for what you are so why did you get offended you PC Thug

        • DrDick

          I see English is about your sixth language of which you have only marginal comprehension. The people are not illegal. They may, however, be in this country illegally. There is an important difference.

          • Malaclypse

            I will bet you any amount of money you care to name that JenBob does not speak six languages, however badly.

            • DrDick

              Well, there is gibberish, jibberjabber, wingnut, and whatever the voices in his head speak to start with. Now none of these is a human languages, but still.

              • Bill Murray

                i think you have to count Klingon to get to 6

                • DrDick

                  I believe he speaks gerbil as well.

                • rea

                  Given, though, that this “commentor” has been banned multiple times without effect . . .

                  . . . maybe we should call him “Illgal.”

    • STH

      And once again we see that the well-thought-out Republican position on any issue is WHATEVER WE THINK WILL PISS OFF LIBERALS.

      • Shakezula

        Don’t tell anyone, but it would really upset this African-American female liberal if hordes of Republican fucktards did the following:
        1. Take a radio into the bathroom and plug it in near the tub. Tune it to Rush Limbaugh, because Rush Limbaugh really pisses me off.
        2. Fill up the bathtub, because taking baths is a waste of water. We should all take really short showers and it upsets me no end when people take sit down baths.
        3. Stir about a pound of salt into water because, um, all of that salt is bad for the environment, particularly my favorite animal, the earthworm.
        4. Get really comfy in the tub and pull the radio into the water.

        • Malaclypse

          #3 should be hot water, because hot water, and the implied Brownian Motion, a clear waste of energy, enrages me as a liberal.

          With that addition, and the renumbering of subsequent points, I would be filled with a sense of helpless rage.

    • Joshua


      • Njorl


  • Johnny Sack

    The shorthand “illegals” is a noun and refers to human beings as being illegal. I see no issue with using illegal as an adjective modifying a noun such as immigrant. I would say that there are bigger issues than nomenclature in immigration, but obviously it doesn’t mean we can’t change it.

    • Captain Bringdown

      Wholeheartedly agree with the noun vs. adjective usage. “Illegal” is fine an adjective, but when used as a noun it’s deeply offensive and dehumanizing.

      • Captain Bringdown

        … fine AS an adjective

    • Bruce Vail

      I’m in your camp on this, Johnny.

      I feel much the same way about the word ‘amnesty.’ Not necessarily pretty, but accurate in a general way.

    • John

      Yeah, I’d agree with this. “Illegals” is offensive. “Illegal immigrants” seems perfectly fine to me.

    • UserGoogol

      There’s a difference between an immigrant who’s illegal and someone who engages in illegal-immigration. I tend think nitpicking over the exact way phrases parse is very often silly, but if people stop using the phrase “illegal immigrant” I wouldn’t really mind.

      • Well, then, how about “criminals.”

  • Shakezula

    Is there a way to include a ban of that fucking Phil Collins song? No? Oh well.

    • TribalistMeathead

      “Another Day in Paradise”?

      • CaptBackslap

        That album was really the point where Phil Collins went from uneven to unlistenable.

        • Just Dropping By

          Hey, “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven” was pretty good!

        • Hogeye Grex

          The first one?

      • rea

        No, he’s gt to be thinking of Led Zeppelin:

        How soft your fields so green, can whisper tales of gore,
        Of how we calmed the tides of war. We are your overlords.

        On we sweep with threshing oar, Our only goal will be the western shore.

        • Shakezula

          How. Dare. You? Comparing Led Zeppelin to Collins is like … Comparing Rush Limpbaugh to … to … anyone not Rush Limbbaugh.

          • Malaclypse

            This is true. Led Zeppelin can only be properly compared to Rush during their “By-Tor And The Snow-Dog” era.

            • Shakezula

              That was low.

              • Malaclypse

                Cruel but fair.

    • Just Dropping By


    • Shakezula

      Fine, I should have been more specific. At the very least it would have averted crap music flashbacks. Thanks guys, really.

      • LeftWingFox

        I think everyone who knows the song is just embarrassed to admit it.

        The fact that it’s actually on my iPod is probably even more embarassing, but In my defence rarely ever scrup tracks from my music library,and I also have no taste.

        • TribalistMeathead

          I’ll admit I have no fucking clue which song he’s talking about.

    • Njorl

      “I Don’t Have Hair Anymore!”?

  • Gareth Wilson

    I prefer “freelance invaders” or “immigration criminals”.

  • Epicurus

    The people themselves are not “illegal,” but for those who entered without inspection [by an immigration officer] have broken federal law. I would then suggest the legalism “EWI” to indicate a person whose presence in this country is not legal. A small difference, imho, but I appreciate not demonizing those who are here in an attempt to better their social/economic standing. We should actually celebrate the fact that so many are clamoring to live in our country.

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