The New York Times Magazine is publishing an article this weekend titled, “The Unwelcome Return of ‘Illegals.’” The article points out that, despite longstanding efforts by the GOP to soften the way its leaders characterize illegal immigrants, the current crop of GOP presidential candidates are being drawn back to a harsher characterization, “illegals.”
When I googled the term “illegal immigration,” I quickly learned that the roiling argument over the proper way to describe illegal immigrants has never subsided. Countless essays and articles nitpick between illegal and undocumented, with the term illegal preferred by those who think there is something fundamentally wrong with the individual’s status, while the term undocumented is preferred by those who think there is only a minor, correctible technicality wrong with the person’s status.
An article three years ago on CNN.com suggested a compromise based on a Supreme Court opinion by Justice Kennedy. He used the relatively neutral term, “unauthorized migrant,” but the term hasn’t caught on, probably because most people are not relatively neutral on this subject. Rather, they either want the migrants gone yesterday or want them welcomed with open arms.
Although I would be much more generous to illegal immigrants than my political brothers-in-arms (I would amnesty those who have been here at least 7-10 years), I have a major bone to pick with the media on its liberal coverage of this issue. It is almost impossible to find a media article that doesn’t inaccurately conflate illegal and legal immigration. Candidates like Trump are described as anti-immigrant when the accurate description would be anti-illegal immigrants. Some pundits might be anti-legal immigration (e.g., Ann Coulter), but I have yet to hear of a GOP presidential candidate who wants to reduce legal immigration. Indeed, the vast majority of them want to increase legal immigration.
Of course, if the GOP field is generally anti-illegal immigrant, that would mean the Dems could claim the mantle of pro-illegal immigrants, and I don’t think Hillary and the Dems would decline it.