April 22, 2012
Questioning the “I” word: illegal, undocumented, or other…?

When the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments next week on Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant bill, SB 1070, headlines across the country will no doubt contain language referring to immigrant communities as “illegal.” 

"Illegal immigrant" is currently acceptable in AP Style, in The New York Times and, as a result, in most newspapers in the United States. However the notion that this is a proper, or even legally accurate term, is in question. Not only have organizers within the undocumented community spoken out against the use of “illegal,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor used the term “undocumented” in the December 2009, marking the Court’s first use of the term. 

I use the term “undocumented” and do not support the term “illegal” when referring to a person in the immigrant community. I feel I owe an explanation why I choose not to use illegal—both for transparency within this project and also because my rationale might add something to a debate that is about much more than semantics. Here is why:

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