Opinion: Why 'illegal immigrant' is a slur
A supporter of Arizona's immigration policy pickets outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington in April.
July 5th, 2012
04:00 PM ET

Opinion: Why 'illegal immigrant' is a slur

Editor's note: Charles Garcia, who has served in the administrations of four presidents, of both parties, is the CEO of Garcia Trujillo, a business focused on the Hispanic market. He was named in the book "Hispanics in the USA: Making History" as one of 14 Hispanic role models for the nation. Follow him on Twitter: @charlespgarcia. Lea este artículo en español/Read this article in Spanish.

By Charles Garcia, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Last month's Supreme Court decision in the landmark Arizona immigration case was groundbreaking for what it omitted: the words "illegal immigrants" and "illegal aliens," except when quoting other sources. The court's nonjudgmental language established a humanistic approach to our current restructuring of immigration policy.

When you label someone an "illegal alien" or "illegal immigrant" or just plain "illegal," you are effectively saying the individual, as opposed to the actions the person has taken, is unlawful. The terms imply the very existence of an unauthorized migrant in America is criminal.

In this country, there is still a presumption of innocence that requires a jury to convict someone of a crime. If you don't pay your taxes, are you an illegal? What if you get a speeding ticket? A murder conviction? No. You're still not an illegal. Even alleged terrorists and child molesters aren't labeled illegals.

By becoming judge, jury and executioner, you dehumanize the individual and generate animosity toward them. New York Times editorial writer Lawrence Downes says "illegal" is often "a code word for racial and ethnic hatred."

The term "illegal immigrant" was first used in 1939 as a slur by the British toward Jews who were fleeing the Nazis and entering Palestine without authorization. Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel aptly said that "no human being is illegal."

Migrant workers residing unlawfully in the U.S. are not - and never have been - criminals. They are subject to deportation, through a civil administrative procedure that differs from criminal prosecution, and where judges have wide discretion to allow certain foreign nationals to remain here.

Read Charles Garcia's full column

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Thinker23

    "Illegal" means "iIN VIOLATION OF THE LAW". A person who enters and stays in the US IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW is doing it ILLEGALLY. It's assimple as that.

    July 8, 2012 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
  2. G.I. JON

    So I guess border jumpers should take its place

    July 7, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rusty

      I prefer the term Border Hopper

      July 8, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Hamsta

    Every day when I go to work I have to prove I am a United States citizen with a clean criminal background to get through the gate. If a citizen has to prove this in every day life, why is it that an illegal alien has the special right of being declared innocent until proven guilty. If I, as a United States citizen get caught at work without my ridiculously expensive department of homeland securituy identification I would be arrested, charged with felony trespassing, and be put on a terrorist watchlist just for forgetting my identification. SO WHAT'S SO WRONG WITH ASKING AN ILLEGAL ALIEN FOR HIS PAPERS?

    July 6, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Marcos

    I'm a "legal Immigrant" from Guatemala, and have absolutely no problem with the term "illegal immigrant". I think this is a bunch of bull liberals have come up with. Garcia says "When you label someone an "illegal alien" or "illegal immigrant" or just plain "illegal," you are effectively saying the individual, as opposed to the actions the person has taken, is unlawful" So I guess following that logic we should stop calling rapists, just that, and instead start saying that they committed an "unlawful act". What a bunch of bull. By the way, I'm in no way equating illegal immigrants to rapist, just trying to make a point of how silly this is.

    July 6, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Christopher

    Weird all the responses from yesterday seemed to have disappeared. Let's use criminal trespassers then so we can easily distinguish the term from all the people that respect our laws enough to go through proper channels to live here.

    July 6, 2012 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
  6. Andy

    I guess Mr.Charles Garcia has never applied for visa from overseas. Because "innocent until proven guilty" only applies to criminal law. In immigration law, it is actually "guilty until proven innocent". When one applies for visa, he/she must prove he/she doesn't have the intention to stay over the length of visa.

    July 5, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Hamsta

    That is just the left wing getting desperate for votes after bold face lieing to America about the economy, ramming a health bill down our throats that will only benefit non citizens, and putting America in massive debt while blaming bush and the republicans. Now their only voter base is convicted felons, non citizens, dead people, and finally all other minorities.

    July 5, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Missy

    You do realize how completely ridiculous this is, right? Have you ever heard the terms "criminal", "tax cheat", etc. Those are terms we use for people who do illegal things. Would it be best if we refer to lawbreakers in general as...I don't know...maybe something like "legally disadvantaged yet valid and worthy persons"?

    July 5, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |