Sorry, but the Accurate Legal Term is 'Illegal Alien'

COMMENTARY Border Security

Sorry, but the Accurate Legal Term is 'Illegal Alien'

Nov 18, 2016 2 min read
Hans A. von Spakovsky

Election Law Reform Initiative Manager, Senior Legal Fellow

Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues—including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration.

The College Fix is reporting that the politically correct Rutgers University student newspaper, the Daily Targum, has fired columnist Aviv Khavich for trying to use the term “illegal alien” in a column about illegal immigration. After he complained to his editor that she had changed illegal alien” to “undocumented immigrant” in a column he submitted, he was fired.

“Undocumented immigrant” is the term created by the Left and pushed by activist liberal organizations such as La Raza to obscure the illegal actions and conduct of those who violate our immigration laws. Khavich blames the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, Dan Corey, who claimed that “illegal” was changed to “undocumented” for “stylistic purposes.” Corey apparently doesn’t care that the Daily Targum’s “stylistic change” is a refusal to use accurate legal terminology, which one would assume is the goal of all news organizations.

Federal district court Judge Andrew Hanen of the Southern District of Texas dealt with this specific issue when he issued a preliminary injunction on Feb. 16, 2015, against President Barack Obama’s immigration amnesty plan. This was in U.S. v. Texas, the lawsuit filed by 26 states to stop the “Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents” program announced by Obama in November 2014. This case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction. The justices split four-to-four on the case, leaving the injunction in place and the president’s plan dead for the rest of his term.

In footnote two of his Feb. 16 order, Hanen says this:

The Court uses the phrases ‘illegal immigrant’ and ‘illegal alien’ interchangeably…The Court also understands that there is a certain segment of the population that finds the phrase ‘illegal alien’ offensive. The Court uses this term because it is the term used by the Supreme Court in its latest pronouncement pertaining to this area of the law. See Arizona v. United States, 132 S. Ct. 2492 (2012).

Arizona v. United States is the 2012 Supreme Court decision in which the Court, while striking down certain portions of Arizona’s new law on illegal aliens, upheld its most controversial provision — the requirement that state law enforcement officials verify the immigration status of individuals they stop, detain or arrest if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is “unlawfully present in the United States.” The term “illegal alien” is used by the Supreme Court in that case on multiple occasions, such as when the Court points out that a particular amendment to federal immigration law was passed as “a comprehensive framework for ‘combating the employment of illegal aliens’” (emphasis added).

Apparently, using the correct legal term is not important to the Associated Press either, which is supposed to keep us all accurately informed of the news without any partisan bias. The AP also decided a couple of years ago that instead of using the applicable legal terminology, it would change its style guide to prohibit the use of “Illegal” when talking about immigrants because the AP wants to avoid “labeling” anyone.

Khavich is himself an immigrant whose family first fled the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, moving to Israel, and then came to the United States where he and his parents became American citizens. The whole point of his last column was that enforcement of our immigration laws is not “anti-immigrant.” Khavich says that real justice is being anti-criminal and enforcing the law: “as an immigrant, I do not take offense, nor do I see it as an act of prejudice to threaten ‘undocumented immigrants’ [illegal aliens] with deportation, but rather the rightful enforcement of the law.”

In fact, as an immigrant, Khavich finds “it much, much more offensive that UndocuRutgers has the gall to promote, condone and support breaking the law, after my parents and I had to wait 13 years to proceed from L-1 and L-2 visas to H-1B and H-4 visas, to green cards and finally to citizenship.”

According to Khavich, the student newspaper is “a collection of self-flagellating, bureaucratic leftists that only include the three (now two) conservatives that they do as a way to fill the minimum requirements to be considered ‘open-minded.’” Sounds like he is describing many in the mainstream media these days, not just the student newspaper at Rutgers.

This piece first appeared in the National Review Online.