Is “undocumented immigrant” accepted legal jargon now?

Via Gabriel Malor at Ace of Spades HQ, Justice Sonia Sotomayor used the phrase “undocumented immigrant” in her first published decision.

Apparently, the justices have previously used the more accurate terms “alien not lawfully present in the United States” or “illegal alien.” But in her very first published decision as a Supreme Court justice, Sotomayor went with the technically inaccurate but politically correct euphemism “undocumented immigrants.”

Gabriel finds Justice Sotomayor’s grasp of legal terminology … unsatisfying.

Let’s discuss.

“Undocumented immigrant” is, in all honesty, just as accurate as “illegal immigrant” if the person under discussion is an immigrant — coming to stay, at least for a long while; and without having obtained the proper permission, which would take the form of certain documents.

But there are two problems, there. First: “undocumented” doesn’t cover the whole wide gamut of illegals. As Gabriel writes:

…many of those we think of as “illegal aliens” are not actually “undocumented.” Like I just wrote, many of them entered with temporary, non-immigrant visas which they later violated. They have documentation. It’s just not documentation giving them lawful status.

So “undocumented” is only a subset of “illegal.” They’re not the same thing.

Second, the term “immigrant” implies some sort of official status. To emigrate is an actual, legal thing, with paperwork and signatures and file cabinets and stuff. By that interpretation of the word “immigrant,” therefore, the phrase “illegal immigrant” is colloquially acceptable but literally redundant. If you’re here illegally, you are by definition not an immigrant.

You’re an alien.

Okay, but wait a minute: to most Americans, the word “alien” implies a big-eyed artichoke-headed glowing green guy with suction-cup fingertips who mutilates cows and, in his spare time, walks through cornfields with plywood on his feet.

Am I being ridiculous? Am I? Any life form arriving here from another planet will fit the generally accepted definition of “illegal alien” no matter what. Does anyone deny the potential for some hidebound D.C. bureaucrat to make that leap? Do we really want the INS to be the lead agency on an alien invasion or visitation?

I don’t think so.

Well, okay, so what about “native human beings in certain circumstances?” Too vague? Yeah, okay. We could go with that phrase Gabriel mentioned: “alien not legally present in the U.S.” But, boy, that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Leave the lawyerspeak to the lawyers, I say.

How about an adjectival phrase like “criminally immigrant,” or “criminally alien?” See, you’re creating a new subset of “immigrant” and “alien” there. You could even shorten those to “crimmigrant” and “cralien,” if you wanted. Okay, maybe not “cralien.” Sounds like a brand of fruit juice. Still, these terms at least emphasize the criminal status, yet differentiate between someone here illegally who means to stay, and someone here illegally just for the weekend.

“Crimmagrant.” Think it’ll catch on?

(The TrogloPundit blogs regularly at The TrogloPundit)

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