The “United 4 the Dream group” has asked the Charlotte Observer to stop using the word “illegal” when referring to people in the United States illegally. They prefer the word “undocumented” since “illegal” has, they claim, a criminalizing and dehumanizing connotation.
United 4 the Dream needs to take a peek in the dictionary. Dictionary.com defines illegal as “forbidden by law or statute” and undocumented as “lacking documents required for legal immigration or residence.” An immigrant who is in this country illegally is illegally present in the U.S., as defined by American law. Changing the word “illegal” to “undocumented” doesn’t make an illegal immigrant any more legal; it merely takes the onus of responsibility off the law-breaker. We go from “He’s in this country illegally” to “Woops, he’s undocumented. He just doesn’t have the documents needed for legal residency.” “Undocumented” sounds like the person lost, forgot, or never received correct documentation through a clerical error, rather than committed the criminal act of entering our country without permission.
Changing the word doesn’t change the facts. Whether undocumented or illegal, people who trespass on our border have no legal right to be in the United States. They have broken at least one law – probably more. When an alien is given the right to enter the U.S., this involves an implied consent to respect the laws of our nation. Those who enter illegally or through fraud/misrepresentation have made no such promise to respect our laws. Laws matter.