Get immigration terms straight: For starters, so-called Dreamers are aliens, and they’re not undocumented


December 2, 2019

By Lew Jan Olowski

The people politicians call “Dreamers” are illegal aliens. Media outlets conceal this fact when reporting about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program by leaning on misleading euphemisms like “undocumented” or “unauthorized.”

Let’s stop mincing words.

An alien is by definition a person who enters a foreign country. Americans are aliens when they enter foreign countries, and foreigners are aliens when they enter the United States.

DACA does not grant legal status to its alien participants. That’s not my judgment; by its own terms, DACA “confers no substantive right, immigration status or pathway to citizenship.” Rather, deportation is the “action” DACA defers. Deportation is the logical — and legislatively mandated — law-enforcement consequence of illegally entering the United States.

Instead, the order purports to defer deportation for certain aliens who illegally entered as minors based on the reasonable judgment that deporting them is less urgent than deporting others. After all, deportation is resource-intensive: It entails arrest, detention, lawyering, adjudication and enforcement.

Even the euphemism “Dreamer” admits DACA participants’ illegal alien status. The term derives from the DREAM Act: Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. Congress rejected the DREAM Act dozens of times, most recently in 2011. The DREAM Act is not law.

Some media outlets and editors rationalize their avoidance of the factual term “illegal alien.” For example, the Associated Press says “that ‘illegal’ should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.” But “living in or immigrating to a country illegally” is exactly what it means to be an illegal alien.

Of course, not all aliens are illegal. Millions of people legally enter the United States each year. They come for medical treatment, for refuge, to start families and to study. They can enter legally if they apply for visas: permits to enter the United States. And if they eventually obtain citizenship through the legal process known as naturalization, they cease to be aliens. They become citizens.

Not all aliens are immigrants. An immigrant is an alien who resides in a foreign country. A nonimmigrant alien merely enters temporarily. Nonimmigrant aliens include people who apply for visas to conduct business or tourism.

But when nonimmigrants enter or remain illegally, then they are illegal aliens, regardless whether they intend to stay. That’s a fact.

Likewise, immigrants — aliens who have decided to reside in the United States — can either be legal immigrants or illegal immigrants. They remain aliens unless and until they become citizens.

It may sound tautological, but in the current climate, it must be stated: The only legal immigrants are those whose immigration complies with U.S. law. The United States only grants a limited number of immigrant visas each year, except for immediate family: spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21.

Some illegal immigrants might eventually apply for and receive lawful status in the United States. Yet if their lawful status comes at the expense of a quota-limited permit category, then they have cut in line and delayed the admission of law-abiding people who are still waiting to enter.

There is no such thing as an “undocumented immigrant.” DACA participants, in particular, are not undocumented. They corroborate their applications with documentation and they even receive documents from the federal government. CNN contributor Ruben Navarette says the phrase “undocumented immigrant” is “politically correct, but it’s also absurd. Most of these people have plenty of documents.”

True. An alien who indefinitely overstays his nonimmigrant visa, for example, possesses every document necessary for lawful entry. But he has chosen to break the law, instead, and has thus become an illegal immigrant.

The word “unauthorized” is at best synonymous with the correct term “illegal.” Nonetheless, like any euphemism, “unauthorized” is an obfuscation. It misleads people away from the fact that federal law determines immigration standards. As the DACA program itself admits, “Only the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer [immigration] rights.”

Breaking immigration law is illegal. It carries serious civil and criminal consequences. And it bears directly upon America’s sovereignty as a nation.

Lew Jan Olowski is staff counsel at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of illegal migration.

Also published at: Lew J. Olowski, Get immigration terms straight: For starters, so-called Dreamers are aliens, and they’re not undocumented, The New York Daily News, December 2, 2019.

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