Is Saying “Illegal Alien” Now Forbidden?

Press Releases

June 26, 2024

IRLI shows court why student should not have been suspended from school for using term

WASHINGTON—Yesterday, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) submitted a brief in a case in which a sixteen-year-old high school student in North Carolina was suspended for using the term “illegal alien” in a question to his teacher. Through his parents, the student is suing the school board for unlawful retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment right to free speech. IRLI’s brief is in support of a preliminary injunction seeking to remove the suspension from the student’s record and clear his name.

During a vocabulary quiz that included the word “alien,” the student raised his hand and asked if the teacher meant “space aliens or illegal aliens who need green cards.” A Hispanic fellow student, with whom the student who asked the question was friendly, jokingly pretended to be offended, though he really was not. The teacher, however, accusing the student of “racism,” took the matter up to administration, which—despite a plea by the student’s mother for a sit-down with the teacher and the mock-offended student to sort out the situation—decided to suspend the student who said “illegal alien” for three days.

In its brief, IRLI thoroughly shows that the terms “alien” and “illegal alien” are used throughout immigration law, and have precise meanings that are captured by no other terms. An “alien” is defined as a person who is neither a citizen nor a national of the United States. Thus, the new replacement term “noncitizen” being pushed by anti-borders activists is inaccurate. First, almost all people on Earth are citizens of some country, if not this one. Second, a person born in, for example, American Samoa is not an alien, but he is a “noncitizen,” since, by treaty, persons born in American Samoa are American nationals but not U.S. citizens.

As for “illegal,” it, too, is the only term. The replacement term “undocumented” is wildly inaccurate. Illegal aliens frequently have all sorts of documentation, including notices to appear at deportation hearings, consular matricula cards, fraudulent social security cards, and, in some states, drivers’ licenses. So “undocumented” wholly fails to capture the concept that “illegal aliens” precisely signifies: aliens who are in this country unlawfully.

As IRLI shows in its brief, the necessity of these terms is why they continue to be used in federal statutes and judicial opinions from the Supreme Court down, and why federal judges in courts around the country have vigorously and exhaustively defended their continued use. As these judges point out, there is nothing pejorative in the terms “alien” or even “illegal alien.” Rather, they are precise, un-emotive terms that bring needed clarity to the law.

“It is all too clear that anti-borders activists don’t want people even to think about people from foreign countries being in this country unlawfully,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “So they push words like ‘undocumented,’ which avoids describing that unpopular reality. The school in this case is obviously onboard with this anti-borders agenda, and decided to tarnish an innocent student’s reputation in its zeal to stamp out a much-needed legal term. We hope the court sees through this cruel attempt to establish Orwell’s Newspeak in North Carolina schools, and grants an injunction.”

The case is C.M. v. Davidson County Board of Education, No. 24-cv-380 (M.D. N.C.).

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