The Dishonest War on the Term ‘Illegal Alien’


April 29, 2024

By Dale Wilcox

The war on truth about illegal immigration has officially made its way to the classroom.

A high school student in North Carolina was suspended from school earlier this month after using the term “illegal alien” when asking a question about a class assignment. After the teacher issued an assignment which included the term “alien,” the student asked if she was referring to space aliens or illegal aliens. For this offense, the student was suspended from school for three days, and will now have to explain why he has a suspension on his record when applying to colleges. This successful effort to chill accurate speech in an academic setting should infuriate all Americans who care about free and open discourse, and serve as a warning sign about the influence of propaganda from the anti-borders movement.

There is nothing wrong or imprecise about the term “illegal alien.” According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, our nation’s current immigration law, the term “alien” is defined as “any person not a citizen or national of the United States.” Thus, it is valid to refer to a foreigner in the country illegally as an illegal alien, yet the effort to transform this proper legal terminology into a societal taboo has been largely successful.  

The anti-borders movement has demonized the term as bigoted and racist, even though “alien” is not a race and foreign nationals from all over the world and of all different races seek to come here. The push has included browbeating major institutions to discard the term in order to whitewash the crime of illegal immigration.

In 2013, the Associated Press  announced it would no longer refer to illegal aliens by their accurate legal term, implying that it is mean and insensitive to do so. Today, people who read news reports about crimes committed by illegal aliens may come away from the report not even knowing the crime was committed by someone who had no right to be in the country, and that is exactly the point.

Take for example the recent murder of Laken Riley, a gruesome crime committed against a young woman in Georgia, allegedly at the hands of an illegal alien. In its initial report following Riley’s killing, the Atlanta Journal Constitution referred to the alleged killer as an “Athens man,” while NPR referred to the alleged murderer as simply a “Venezuelan migrant.”

The attempts to redefine the language used to describe illegal immigration is ultimately a war on truth.

The term “undocumented immigrant” has also been popularized by activists and the media as a way to describe illegal aliens, as if entering a foreign country illegally and misplacing your documents are similar actions. Efforts have been made at both the federal and state level to change the language that has defined our immigration laws for nearly six decades. Just months after taking office, the Biden Administration barred Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from using the term “illegal alien.” Later that year, Colorado passed legislation removing the term illegal alien from its laws and replacing it with the term “worker without authorization.”

Some people will naturally dismiss the importance of these disputes over immigration terminology. After all, human beings tend to underestimate the importance of language. In this case, the anti-borders movement’s assault on the language used in our nation’s immigration laws is part and parcel of their assault on the laws themselves. For example, substituting the term “undocumented” in place of “illegal” is meant to mislead the public into believing the crisis of illegal immigration is simply a mundane dispute over documentation rather than what it actually is—a systemic assault on the sovereignty of the American people.

As author George Orwell famously quipped: “political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful.”

The attempts to redefine the language used to describe illegal immigration is ultimately a war on truth. It is intended to normalize the lawlessness at our southern border and justify the presence of the tens of millions of illegal aliens currently residing in the U.S. The vast majority of Americans still believe in the rule of law, and thus believe that when an illegal action occurs, it should be remedied by the legal system.

Those behind this movement understand that to get Americans to accept illegal immigration, they have to muddy the waters to make it seem legal and normal. This is why a high school student in North Carolina had to be punished for using politically incorrect, but legally correct, terminology.

The illegal immigration lobby is so dependent on deception that even a 16-year-old kid muttering two words of truth represents a threat to their ideological project.

Dale L. Wilcox is executive director and general counsel for 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 mass migration.

Also published at The New American, April 29, 2024.

Get Connected

Sign up for our email newsletter to stay up to date with immigration reform in the United States.

Attorneys United for a Secure America (AUSA) is a non-partisan affiliation of talented attorneys dedicated to pursuing cases that serve the national interest when it comes to immigration law.

If you are interested in joining the network, visit the AUSA website.