The Chicago Tribune is offended by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ use the term “illegal alien” when discussing sanctuary cities.
“In a democracy that values the rule of law, word choice is important, especially when those words come from voices of authority,” the Chicago Tribune wrote.
The Tribune is correct in what they said, but not in what they meant. Word choice is important, which is why the DOJ and the attorney general use the most legally accurate term when discussing illegal immigration and sanctuary cities.
“Alien” is a term used by the federal government to designate a person in the United States from a foreign country. The Internal Revenue Service defines an alien as “an individual who is not a U.S. citizen or U.S. national.” The same document defines “immigrant,” “nonimmigrant,” and “illegal alien.” Their definition for illegal alien is “an alien who has entered the United States illegally and is deportable if apprehended or an alien who entered the United States legally but now has fallen ‘out of status’ and is deportable.”
The Chicago Tribune chose to attack the DOJ for its use of the standard language for a person in the U.S. illegally.
“A not-so-subtle shift in word choice by the U.S. Department of Justice this week has largely gone unnoticed,” Chicago Tribune writer Todd Slowik wrote. “I’d like to call attention to it. I think it’s another sign of how quickly a ‘new normal’ is taking hold, regardless of foundation in facts or law.”
A “new normal” is not new at all. The definition of “illegal alien” has not been added to the governmental lexicon by the Trump Administration or Sessions. It has been in place for decades. In fact, while the Obama Administration attempted to apply political correctness to the term in general, they did not change the definition in any government manuals or regulations.
The writer laid out his case by chastising the DOJ’s use of the term he apparently considers offensive during a discussion about new conditions for the DOJ’s awarding of Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant programs.
During the announcement of the new restrictions, Sessions said, “So-called ‘sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes.” The writer pointed out that Sessions used the phrase “illegal alien” not once, but three times.
I thought it was odd that the nation’s top law enforcement agent repeatedly used a phrase that is loaded with implied guilt. For years, government officials, attorneys, media and others have avoided using the phrase — or at least acknowledged its implications — and used wording like “undocumented” or “unauthorized” instead.
For example, in the July 9, 2014, announcement, “Department of Justice Announces New Priorities to Address Surge of Migrants Crossing into the U.S.,” then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole chose such language as “migrants,” “asylum seekers” and “unaccompanied minors.”
Why does this matter? The phrase “illegal alien” plays into assumptions that immigrants living in this country without proper documentation are criminals. In fact, immigration status is often a civil matter, not a criminal one.
That, of course, is simply not true. Whether the illegal alien has committed a criminal offense or not, they are illegally present in the U.S. – hence the term “illegal alien.”
As for some of the other terms illustrated by the writer, “Asylum seekers” and “unaccompanied minors” are simply subsets of the more encompassing term, illegal alien. An “asylum seeker” is often an illegal alien seeking to adjust their status. But an “asylum seeker” can also be a legal immigrant on a temporary visa seeking to change their status to a more protected class. “Unaccompanied minor” is also a subset of illegal alien, but it is not actually the legal phrase for the class. The term used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection for this class is “Unaccompanied Alien Children.”
The writer seeks to shore up his argument by quoting a professor from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Michael H. LeRoy.
“He wants to create the impression that all aliens who are in the U.S. without permission are criminals,” LeRoy said in an email to the Tribune. “Aliens have constitutional rights, and to convict them, they must have a trial. Immigration law is set up to provide a much faster process, called removal.”
The interesting point here is, LeRoy also used the apparently offensive term “alien” in his statement. However, the professor is incorrect. The AG is attempting to more accurately define criminal aliens that are being protected by sanctuary jurisdictions.
A perfect example presented itself this week when Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese in Portland, Oregon, exercised his political correctness training over community safety when, in December 2016, he released a criminal illegal alien wanted by immigration officials on felony re-entry charges. Immigration officials previously removed the violent illegal alien from the U.S. 20 times. ICE notified Sheriff Reese of their intent to pick up Sergio Jose Martinez from the county jail on a felony charge of illegal re-entry after removal, Breitbart Texas reported. Despite the immigration detainer, Reese’s jailers released the violent criminal alien. Martinez went on to attack and rape two women in the Portland area, one of whom was 65-years-old.
These are exactly the type of illegal alien and sanctuary city policies Sessions spoke of when announcing the crackdown on Byrne Grants.
LeRoy attempts to shore up his case stating, “In one case, a woman named Paulina flies into the United States, overstays her visa and accrues ‘an unlawful presence.’ In another instance, a man named Jose climbs a fence in Arizona and makes an ‘improper entry’.”
“Culturally, many people accept Paulina’s accrued unlawful presence more readily than Jose’s improper entry because of their ethnicity,” LeRoy said. Again, that is not true. “Paulina’s” illegal status is caused by an administrative issue of overstaying a visa – a civil violation. “Jose,” however, entered the U.S. without inspection – a criminal misdemeanor offense. While both of these fictitious individuals are “illegal aliens,” the issue of sanctuary cities focuses on jurisdictions that are ignoring lawful law enforcement requests, sometimes even when accompanied by a warrant for removal from a judge.
Slowik concludes by claiming, “’Illegal alien’ is a loaded phrase, and everyone – especially the president and attorney general – should be careful how they use it.”