Equity & Diversity

How Do Supreme Court Justices Refer to the Undocumented?

By Mary Ann Zehr — December 09, 2010 1 min read

In court yesterday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. used the words “illegal aliens” to describe people who are living illegally in this country while Justice Sonia Sotomayor tended to refer to them as “undocumented aliens,” Mark Walsh writes over at School Law blog.

Walsh makes the case in his analysis that “the language surrounding immigration issues is somewhat caught up in political correctness, with references to ‘illegal aliens’ viewed as pejorative, at least by those sympathetic to immigrants.”

I’ve noticed that groups who are sympathetic to the plight of people without papers, such as the National Council of La Raza, refer to them as “undocumented immigrants,” while groups that work to stop illegal immigration, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, use “illegal aliens.” The Pew Hispanic Center, which keeps a neutral position on immigration issues, uses the words “unauthorized immigrants.”

For the record, on this blog, while I sometimes write the words “illegal immigration,” I don’t attach the word “illegal” to human beings, but rather call them “undocumented immigrants.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.