Last updated on: 6/2/2016 | Author:

Should the Term “Illegal Alien” Be Used to Define Persons in Violation of Immigration Law?

PRO (yes)


Diane Black, US Representative (R-TN), in an Apr. 14, 2016 statement, “Black Introduces Bill to Address Politically-Motivated Policy Change at Library of Congress,” available at Black’s House of Representatives website, stated:

“This needless policy change by the Library of Congress [replacing the use of “alien,” “illegal alien,” and “illegal immigration” with “noncitizen” and “unauthorized immigration”] embodies so much of what taxpayers find enraging about Washington. By trading common-sense language for sanitized political-speak, they are caving to the whims of left-wing special interests and attempting to mask the grave threat that illegal immigration poses to our economy, our national security, and our sovereignty. My constituents know that illegal immigration by any other name is still illegal, and we should identify it as such. That is why my bill directs the Library of Congress to continue using the term ‘illegal alien’ just as they were previously. Hopefully this bill will give Washington the push needed to stop thinking up the most politically correct ways to describe illegal immigration and start thinking about solutions to address it.”

Apr. 14, 2016 - Diane Black

Pro, an advocacy organization dedicated to preventing amnesty for immigrants in the United States illegally, wrote in its June 15, 2011 article “Burglars Are Not Uninvited House Guests. Car-jackers Are Not Under-rated Drivers. Bank Robbers Are Not Making Unauthorized Withdrawals. Illegal Aliens Are Not Undocumented Immigrants”:

“The correct terminology for the nearly 20 million persons illegally in the U.S. is illegal aliens. The term undocumented immigrants is purposely incorrect in order to sway the public in favor of special interest groups and only clouds the reality of the situation. Most undocumented border crossers never had a document to lose. The incorrect and understated implication is that legal status can be achieved merely by completing some paperwork. By law the illegal alien must leave the country in order to apply through the proper immigration procedure…

An alien is a person who comes from a foreign country. The term illegal alien is broader and more accurate because it includes undocumented aliens and nonimmigrant visa overstayers. An undocumented alien is an individual who has entered the U.S. illegally, without entry documentation. Any alien who violates the terms of his or her admission may be deemed to be out of status. Becoming out of status occurs when a nonimmigrant remains in the United States beyond the expiration date of their visa or when a nonimmigrant engages in employment in the United States for which she is not authorized. Roughly 60% of the illegal alien population are undocumented aliens and about 40% are nonimmigrant visa overstayers. Thus, the term illegal alien, being broader in scope, is the accurate term to use.”

June 15, 2011 -


The Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform (CAIR) wrote in its Sep. 11, 2002 article “Terminology, ‘Undocumented Worker,’ Versus ‘Illegal Alien'” on

“The terms ‘undocumented worker,’ ‘undocumented immigrant,’ and ‘undocumented alien’ are often used to describe those who have broken the law of our land to enter and work in our country illegally. These are all misleading terms, deliberately used to ‘soften’ the issue. The term ‘undocumented’ implies that foreign nationals have the unconditional right to violate America’s borders and immigration laws. An ‘immigrant’ is an invited guest – a person who comes to a country where they are not a citizen in order to settle there. The term ‘immigrant’ implies permanent, legal, residency. The accurate description of a foreign national illegally residing in America is illegal alien.”

Sep. 11, 2002 - Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform (CAIR)


Adversity.Net, a civil rights organization based in Maryland, wrote in its article “Definitions: Alien, Immigrant, Illegal Alien, Undocumented Immigrant” (accessed Jan. 18, 2007):

“These related terms are often used in deliberately confusing and conflicting ways. In popular usage, an ‘immigrant’ is generally understood to be a person who migrates to another country… therefore, an ‘immigrant’ is an alien admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident…

By contrast, an ‘alien’ is generally understood to be a foreigner who does not owe allegiance to our country…

The term ‘illegal alien’ is predicated upon U.S. immigration law… An ‘undocumented immigrant’ is the same as an ‘illegal alien…’  Most U.S. citizens do not use the term ‘undocumented immigrant’ and prefer, instead, the more descriptive and accurate term ‘illegal alien.’ The term ‘undocumented immigrant’ is used by those who believe in ‘open borders.’ “

Jan. 18, 2007 - Adversity.Net

CON (no)


The Library of Congress, in a Mar. 22, 2016 statement, “Library of Congress to Cancel the Subject Heading ‘Illegal Aliens,'” available at, stated:

“In response to constituent requests, the Policy and Standards Division of the Library of Congress, which maintains Library of Congress Subject Headings, has thoroughly examined and discussed the status of the headings Aliens and Illegal aliens. PSD has determined that the heading Aliens should be revised to Noncitizens. The heading Illegal aliens will be cancelled and replaced by two headings, Noncitizens and Unauthorized immigration, which may be assigned together to describe resources about people who are in a country illegally…

The phrase illegal aliens has taken on a pejorative tone in recent years, and in response, some institutions have determined that they will cease to use it. For example, in April 2014 the Associated Press announced that illegal would not be used as a descriptor for any individual…

After deliberation, the meeting participants determined that the heading Aliens will be revised to Noncitizens. For Illegal aliens, the meeting decided that a heading referring to the act of residing in a place without authorization should be used rather than a heading that describes the people as illegal or unauthorized. For resources about people who reside in a country without authorization, two headings will be assigned, Noncitizens and Unauthorized immigration.”

Mar. 22, 2016 - US Library of Congress (USLOC)


The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) wrote in its report “Legal and Policy Analysis: Local Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinances” on (accessed Oct. 19, 2011):

“Not only is the term ‘illegal alien’ not a legal term of art that can be applied to describe an individual’s immigration status, the fact is that a person’s immigration status can change from unlawfully present to lawfully present or from lawfully present to unlawfully present in a short period of time.

Moreover, many families are of ‘mixed’ immigration status, meaning that some households have citizens and lawfully present immigrants living under the same roof as unauthorized immigrants, and a landlord’s refusal to rent property to legally present individuals in such households could subject property owners to liability, as well.”

Oct. 19, 2011 - Mexican American Legal Defence and Educational Fund (MALDEF)


The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) wrote in its Sep. 16, 2010 press release “NAHJ Urges News Media to Stop Using Dehumanizing Terms When Covering Immigration” on

“The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) calls on our nation’s news media to use accurate terminology in its coverage of immigration and to stop dehumanizing undocumented immigrants…

NAHJ is concerned with the increasing use of pejorative terms to describe the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States. NAHJ is particularly troubled with the growing trend of the news media to use the word ‘illegals’ as a noun, shorthand for ‘illegal aliens.’

Using the word in this way is grammatically incorrect and crosses the line by criminalizing the person, not the action they are purported to have committed. NAHJ calls on the media to never use ‘illegals’ in headlines… [and] to avoid ‘Illegal alien.’ Alternative terms are ‘undocumented worker,’ or ‘undocumented immigrant.'”

Sep. 16, 2010 - National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ)


Jesus Nebot, filmmaker, entrepreneur, and speaker, wrote in an Aug. 14, 2011 email to

“‘Illegal alien’ is NOT a neutral term. ‘Illegal,’ used as an adjective or simply as a noun in ‘illegals’ stereotypes these immigrants as criminals, as if they were inherently bad people who must be punished.

Yet, crossing the border outside of legal channels is a violation of the civil code, not a criminal act. Their intent is not to cause harm or to steal. The illegal frame inflates the severity of their offense.

Imagine calling people who have driven over the speed limit ‘illegal drivers.’ Or calling employers that are hiring undocumented immigrants ‘illegals.’

‘Illegal alien’ not only stresses criminality, but also otherness. ‘Aliens,’ in popular culture suggests nonhuman beings invading from outer space — completely foreign, not one of us, intent on taking over our land and our way of life. Along these lines, the word ‘invasion’ is used by the Minutemen and right-wing bloggers to discuss the wave of people crossing the border.

The term ‘illegal alien’ dehumanizes and overlooks the immense contributions most of these immigrants subsequently make by working hard for low wages. A more neutral term would be to call them undocumented immigrants.”

Aug. 14, 2011 - Jesus Nebot


Cindy Rodríguez, Vice-President of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, wrote in her Apr. 4, 2006 Denver Post article “‘Illegal’ As a Noun Breaks Law of Reason”:

“If you can control the words people use, you can frame the issue. In effect, you control the way people view it. That is exactly what is happening with the immigration debate …some politicians are taking the easy way out by focusing on undocumented immigrants. Those politicians are being goaded by nativists, racists and brainwashed people who are confused in our culture of fear. Their term of choice: ‘illegals.’

That shorthand term for ‘illegal immigrants’ – which they use as a noun, making linguists cringe – is being used repeatedly by reactionary commentators and politicians in every venue available. They rail about ‘illegals’ on radio talk shows. Hate groups like the Aryan Nation spew vitriol about the ‘illegal invasion’ in e-mail blasts. Bill O’Reilly and Lou Dobbs drone on about ‘illegals’ every night. These distinct groups use the same language. The same words. The same phrases. It’s an orchestrated effort designed to instill fear in Americans. And it’s working.

Throw in other scary words, such as ‘invasion’ and ‘alien,’ and it’s bound to make people feel scared. That’s how propaganda works. Repeat the words continually until it reshapes the way people think.”

Apr. 4, 2006 - Cindy Rodríguez