Illegal, Alien, or Immigrant: The Politics of Immigration Reform

By Lina Newton | Go to book overview
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A Note on Terminology

In this book I employ the term “illegal immigrant” to describe immigrants of any nation who have entered the United States or remained in the United States unofficially. Thus, I use “illegal” interchangeably with the descriptors “unofficial,” “unauthorized,” and “illicit” when discussing the immigration activities or status of those people who have entered or overstayed without official federal recognition. While I recognize that the term “undocumented” is often favored for political reasons (and grammatical reasons, since the word “illegal” is an adjective that technically describes actions or things, but not people), the term “undocumented” often proves problematic in a policy analytic context. Since the passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act many immigrants who are in the country unofficially are, in fact, documented—although they may have false social security numbers, alien cards, and so on. The reality of false documentation provides its own set of policy problems that would not be captured by the term “undocumented.” Likewise, readers will note from the titles of the numerous government and scholarly studies listed in the bibliography that my use of the term “illegal immigrant” often simply reflects its widespread use in official reports, journalistic accounts, and academic research.

Finally, and most importantly, this is a study of publicly oriented official rhetoric offered in support of government policy. Exploring how elected officials speak of immigration issues, the book presents and analyzes symbolic language, or specific iterations of immigration imagery and narrative structures; this endeavor requires that I pay attention to political language as it appears in official records. However, I have produced this book as an effort to show how official rhetoric ensures that policy nomenclature is often not politically neutral, and to provide critical analysis of immigration discourse where warranted.

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