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Davis, California

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Experts debate wording of “illegal” versus “undocumented” immigrants

Following a show that aired Jan. 7 on National Public Radio, several community members have responded to a heated debate over the labels used in discussing immigration reform and naturalization.

Kevin Johnson, dean of the UC Davis Law School, was featured on the program “Tell Me More,” when he addressed the relevance of what some consider an unnecessary topic.

“Terminology is very important in how you frame this discussion,” he said. “It’s hard to [remain] rational when word choice can influence the tenor and nature of the debate so greatly.”

However, according to Johnson, the mainstream media causes confusion by sending mixed signals. He cites national periodicals, such as The New York Times and the Washington Post, as commonly using the term “illegal immigrant” in their stories.

“We need a less loaded of a term,” Johnson said. “‘Undocumented immigrant’ is preferable, but there is no ideal term. [Eventually] we will use more neutral terms in describing people who in the most part are law-abiding and contributing to our society.”

Ruben Navarrette, syndicated columnist for the San Diego Tribune and who also appeared on the show, disagreed with Johnson.

“It’s just a euphemism for coming to this country unlawfully,” he said. “Using ‘undocumented’ instead of ‘illegal’ has a political slant [and] lessens the significance of the crime.”

Although Navarrette admits to agreeing with Johnson on some points, he also believes the discussion on terminology is simply a waste of time.

“There are a thousand and one other issues to be dealing with,” he said. “In the end, we favor the same policy but quibble over terminology.”

The controversy has reached students at a local level as well. Johnathen Duran, senior community and regional development major, refuses to use either term.

“Striving to only be politically correct is a very low level of understanding, ” he said.

Duran believes it is problematic to use a single comprehensive term because it compounds a variety of situations. Likening the situation to the difference between terms such as disabled people and persons with disabilities, or colored people and people of color, Duran insists that one cannot qualify a human being as illegal.

“We must put the person before the situation because the words don’t tell the whole story,” he said. “Logically it makes no sense, and morally it makes even less sense.”

KYLE SPORLEDER can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.


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