Retired immigration judges: We used 'illegal alien' and got axed

The Obama administration, a compliant media and the “political correctness” word police have taken control of the immigration debate with an agenda of deception, doublespeak and censorship.

As retired immigration judges and Department of Justice attorneys responsible for the proper enforcement of our immigration laws, we have often been asked for our opinion of the current state of our immigration enforcement policies.

These inquiries have motivated us to write commentaries expressing our concerns over the Department of Homeland Security’s failure to enforce our immigration laws as written, the promotion of amnesty and open border ideologies, and the implementation of immigration policies by executive action rather than under the rule of law.

Censorship of legal and factually correct terminology not only limits debate, but it forecloses the ability of those not intimately familiar with the debate to understand all sides.

These articles have been published on the blog of immigration enforcement advocate the Immigration Reform Law Institute and, until recently, by a subscription legal news source that characterizes itself as a trusted news source for top lawyers, business leaders, federal agencies and the entire U.S. federal judiciary.

We say “until recently” as we have now received word from their newly-constituted immigration lawyer editorial board that they will not publish our recent submission relating to sanctuary cities unless we delete from our commentary the term “illegal alien,” which they perceive to be derogatory and/or inflammatory. Their rationale is that the term “illegal” applies to actions, not individuals. The red-line copy that we received in return replaced the term “illegal alien” with the term “undocumented immigrant.”

We refused to comply with their editorial demand and explained to the editorial board that the term “undocumented immigrant” is factually and legally inaccurate and deceptive in nature.

We explained that the term is factually incorrect because many of the aliens illegally present in this country have documents. These documents may range from those unlawfully obtained, like social security cards or social security numbers, fraudulent drivers licenses, or other documents legally obtained such as "cedulas" ("Cedulas" is the term commonly used for matricular identification
or driver documents issued by the Mexican government to its citizens in the United States.) or licenses.

Also, the term “immigrant” only applies to a person who has either legally entered the United States as a lawful permanent resident or has been adjusted to that status while in the United States.

We also explained that the term is legally incorrect for several reasons.

First, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), our nation’s immigration law, does not use the term. Instead, the law expressly uses the term “illegal alien” when referring to a person who has either illegally entered the United States or violated the terms of their admission, such as overstaying a visa. For example, in Title V of The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which added provisions to the INA, there are five references to “illegal alien” alone while the term “undocumented” is not mentioned once.

We also drew the board’s attention to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s recent pronouncement in the Texas v. USA case challenging President Obama’s executive actions granting de facto amnesty to certain illegal aliens where the court likened the term “undocumented immigrant” to “near-gobbledygook.” The court stated in full:   

There is some confusion--not necessarily in this case but generally--regarding the proper term for non-citizens who are in the United States unlawfully. The leading legal lexicographer offers the following compelling explanation:

The usual and preferable term in [American English] is illegal alien. The other forms have arisen as needless euphemisms, and should be avoided as near-gobbledygook. The problem with undocumented is that it is intended to mean, by those who use it in this phrase, “not having the requisite documents to enter or stay in a country legally.” But the word strongly suggests “unaccounted for” to those unfamiliar with this quasi-legal jargon, and it may therefore obscure the meaning. More than one writer has argued in favor of undocumented alien . . . [to] avoid[ ] the implication that one’s unauthorized presence in the United States is a crime . . . . But that statement is only equivocally correct: although illegal aliens’ presence in the country is no crime, their entry into the country is. . . . Moreover, it is wrong to equate illegality with criminality, since many illegal acts are not criminal. Illegal alien is not an opprobrious epithet: it describes one present in a country in violation of the immigration laws (hence “illegal”).

BRYAN A. GARNER, GARNER’S DICTIONARY OF LEGAL USAGE 912 (Oxford 3d ed. 2011) (citations omitted).

We noted further to the board that the Supreme Court of the United States and every federal circuit court of appeals use the term “illegal alien” when referencing someone not lawfully present in the United States.

In fact, a Lexis search for the term “illegal alien” in the “US Courts of Appeals Cases” database produces an alert that the “search (‘illegal alien’) has been interrupted because it will return more than 3000 results.” The same result is obtained when a similar search is performed in the “US District Court Cases” database. The same search in the “State Court Cases” database produces 1,942 cases. It is therefore evident that the legal consensus is that the legal term of art “illegal alien” is the precise and appropriate term when referring to an individual who is in the United States contrary to law.

Our protest resulted in no legal or factual rebuttal. Instead, the editors simply reiterated that they would not allow us to use the term. The editors did replace the term “undocumented immigrant” in the red-line edition of our article with the term “unauthorized alien.” This alternative term, however, is equally lacking in factual or legal integrity.

Who has not “authorized” these aliens?  The term also does not encompass the full spectrum of those aliens illegally present in this country, nor is it the legally accepted term.

We find the attempts to censor our work to conform and promote the editorial board’s political ideologies as much more oppressive, derogatory, and inflammatory to the American ideals of freedom of thought, expression, and open debate than use of the only factually and legally accurate reference for those aliens who have no legal status or entitlement to remain in the United States. (The authors did try to comply with the demands of the  "new" editorial board, however, they stopped short of eliminating the proper terminology relating to aliens illegally present in the United States.)

The demand of the editorial board to substitute the term “undocumented immigrant” for the factually and legally correct term “illegal alien” is a classic example of the type of doublespeak/newspeak that has come to populate the field of debate.

According to William Lutz, author of the 1996 book “The New Doublespeak,” doublespeak is “language which makes the bad seem good, the negative seem positive, the unpleasant seem unattractive, or at least tolerable.”

In the immigration debate, the principles of “Newspeak” and “Doublespeak” are being used to change the perception of aliens illegally present to the more liberally accepted term “undocumented immigrant.”

A variety of motivations underlie this effort, but regardless of intent, those who object to the use of the term “illegal alien” appear to believe that if they can convince the American public that illegal immigration is not really illegal, then amnesty no longer is amnesty, and enforcing immigration law is unnecessary.

The use of "politically correct" terminology to change the fundamental character of the underlying concept or item has its origins in novels such as “1984” and “Animal Farm.”

How could we forget Squealer’s use of propaganda to convince the others that truth was false and lies were truth. While Orwell may have first described the use of doublespeak and newspeak to alter the truth, there is much in the immigration debate that has taken this to a new level.

Censorship of legal and factually correct terminology not only limits debate, but it forecloses the ability of those not intimately familiar with the debate to understand all sides. We can only surmise that this may be the intent of the editorial board of this well-known legal resource.

A recent example in academia shows the lengths some will go in fostering this type of doublespeak is the determination by several professors at Washington State University to actually lower grades of students who include the term “illegal alien” in work submitted in their classes. (Professors Selena Breikss and Rebecca Fowler’s syllabi at both contain language imposing grades reductions and suspensions from class for the use of terms such as, “illegals or illegal aliens.”)

The Associated Press has announced that it will no longer use the term “illegal alien” in its articles. Like the animals in Orwell’s classic, we suffer from a heavy dose of doublespeak which is designed to limit the ideals of freedom of expression, thought and the exchange of ideas.

Why is debate being stifled in the immigration arena? The immigration debate is in the process of being closed to all but a favored few. These favored few are those authors who kowtow to the liberal media’s demand for doublespeak like that in the novels “1984” and “Animal Farm.”

The use of deceptive semantics alters the dialogue and is neither warranted nor acceptable in public debate.