Your Illegal Alien is My Undocumented Immigrant

I'm not a journalist, but I play one on the Drudge Retort. Because I have the good fortune to live in an age where any idiot can break the news, I've been writing headlines and making story selections for the past couple years for an audience that's hitting 80,000 daily pageviews, helping me rationalize why I dumped my comp sci major in college, earned a bachelor of arts in journalism from the University of North Texas and then became a programmer and computer book author anyway. (Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in.)

Some Retort readers object to a headline I gave an incredible Houston Chronicle story this weekend on immigrants so desperate to get here they cross the Arizona desert:

More than 200 migrants died in Arizona's desert borderlands in 2005. More than 100 have been found dead so far this year, Hoover said. And the peak killing season -- the scorching summer months when temperatures hit 110 and higher -- has only just begun.

Even with the humanitarians' supplies, the migrants' water almost always runs out. And without water in this desert, a person gets into very bad trouble, very quickly.

Sweat dries and saliva disappears. Moisture-deprived blood thickens in the veins and runs to the brain, trying to protect it. Dizziness, dementia, debilitating cramps. Water-deprived organs wither, cook inside the body, collapse.

They claim that the Retort headline, Arizona's Desert Kills Hundreds of Immigrants, has a word missing:

we are so politically correct that "illegal" while being a totally correct description is considered slanderous. It is a good point that the papers won't even call them illegals, call a duck a duck.

I left out the word because it seemed pretty honking obvious that legal immigrants aren't risking the most miserable death imaginable to get here. The Chronicle made the same decision.

Over the past 90 days, I've had to make this editorial judgment on the following stories:

Avoiding the terms "illegal alien" and "undocumented immigrant" is a no-brainer, since both are loaded phrases that clearly take sides. But the use of "illegal immigrants" all the time also feels like spin -- an effort to ensure that Americans differentiate between these law-breaking law breakers who break our laws and the millions of law-abiding immigrants who arrived by legal means (word to my great-grandmother).

One problem with their premise, as I see it, is that the line between legal and illegal immigration in this country is often as slim and capricious as wet foot/dry foot, a policy that gives ocean-crossing Cubans a swift path to citizenship if they touch foot on a Florida beach and deports them if they linger offshore for a little bodysurfing.

Last year, 15 Cubans reached land on an abandoned bridge piling in the Florida Keys, but were sent back when the island was kicked out of the United States.

... the American government concluded that because the piling holding the section of the bridge in which they disembarked was no longer connected to the mainland at either end, they had wet feet. As a result, they were all repatriated.

Looking over the Retort headlines, there's two that are short one word: "Immigrants Wary of Guest Worker Program" and "1982 Ruling Opened Schools to Immigrants' Children." Both apply only to undoc-, er, illegal immigrants and should have made that clear.

But as a general rule, I think it's more fair for headline writers to look for reasons to omit "illegal" than to find ways to keep it in.


I don't believe illegal alien is a loaded phrase.

From Wiki:
The terms "illegal immigrant" and "illegal alien" are commonly used phrases that refer to the illegality of the action of migration without legal authorization. The term "illegal alien" is conferred legitimacy by its official use in federal statutes. An illegal alien is a foreign national who resides in another country unlawfully, either by entering that country at a place other than a designated port-of-entry or as result of the expiration of a non-immigrant visa.


These modern situations are like scenes from a Dicken's novel. Poverty, exploitation, social and class distinctions...

I prefer your simple and compassionate headlines. The meat of the article for me was not the legal standing of the dead person but the attempt to understand the oevrwhelming need they feel to try to improve their lives through the act.

Conservatives: Legislate human behavior all you want... people will act on the basis of forces you can't legislate. You will make the pregnant mother a potential criminal... a murdered. You will make the immigrant seeking a working wage an illegal. You will even make a sick perosn using marijuana under a doctors care a potential criminal.
All in an effort to make your values into law.

Thanks for a forum for a little venting, Rogers. I'll check back to see what kind of "strict parent" shit storm ensues as a result of attacking people for thinking their God needs better lobbiests.

The separation of Church and State was design to protect churchs from the state: to prevent the state from impacting your right to worship. It also had benefits for me to avoid being forced to share your view of God.

My God can handle the ethical ambiguities of abortion and not call the mother or the doctor a murdered.

My God can accept people breaking into the US to take jobs no US citizen will entertain.

My God wished you'd stop speaking for yoiur God with the power of law.

My God.

Rogers...while I believe you're coming from a good place on this, I think the use of the word 'illegal' is completely accurate. They are breaking the law. This isn't an act of civil disobedience that has an inherent noble intent. They come here for money and services at the US taxpayer's expense. Perhaps we need to find a way within the law to assist more who want to become citizens do so, but until then I have no sympathy for them, particularly as the Reconquista movement grows in popularity.

Using the word illegal to describe these immigrants is appropiate in my opinion. I am tired of hearing them being treated as victims. They are not taking jobs that Americans won't do. I am a member of a construction union that has been in the state of Florida for over one hundred years. We have had no problem getting people to work these jobs for over one hundred years. Now we are losing our livelihoods to these illegals who work for half the pay that we do. That is why they are here. They did not come here to be Americans. I understand that they are coming because of economic reasons, but instead of becoming illegals why don't they stay and do something about the sad state of their own country. What we should do is to start putting the contractors and other employers who hire these illegals in prison. If the business community knew that there were some real legal reprecussions for hiring illegals they would stop hiring them. Then they would stop coming. These illegals are being used by corporate americans to destroy the standard of living of middle class americans for their own greedy purposes. If they were taking your job I doubt that you would have trouble calling them what they really are.

Most people are against the immigrants because they are "breaking the law". Do these folks really think strengthening the law is going to change anything? Sometimes laws must be broken before they are changed. When is it OK to break the law? Ask our founding fathers.

I am tired of hearing them being treated as victims.

I'm tired of the zeal with which they're described as criminals. They're here illegally, so it's accurate to describe them as illegal immigrants when differentiating them from legal immigrants.

But the employers who hire them are breaking laws too, as are speeders, recreational drug users, downloaders, software pirates, people who write hot checks, and on and on.

It's wrong to demonize a bunch of socially conservative family-conscious Hispanic Catholics who come here for work that Americans are hiring them to do. If we don't want them, we should put our enforcement efforts into shutting down their employers. As long as there are jobs here that pay 20 times what they can earn back home, does anyone really think bigger fences and National Guard troops will stop them? Wouldn't you make the exact same choice they did, if no better option was available?

A linguist's take.

Jobs Americans won't do at those wages. Somehow those jobs got done in the not-too-distant past, sometimes by legal immigrants and sometimes by natives. It's a fairly simple economic problem, but when mythologized it takes on an aspect that does both sides' arguments harm.

I think the distinction (illegal vs. legal) is important, and when we work to destroy said distinction we are changing the complexion of the issue. Some of the most vociferous bitchers about illegal immigration are recent legal immigrants, and although I don't believe their opinions should count more than the rest of ours, I do appreciate the difference between those who recognize the US as a nation of laws (flawed though it may be) and those who don't.

I feel for the illegal immigrants. Mexico, despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world resource-wise, is such a disaster governmentally and socially that it's no surprise people are dying to get out. Which seems to be just fine with the Mexican government. But extenuating circumstances can only take us so far. Whether or not illegal immigration is a net benefit or not for the US, there's not another nation in the world that views its borders as suggestions, not commands. Why should we be different? Because immigration law is arbitrary in some cases? If we're going to ignore laws due to arbitraryness, not much would be left.

When is it OK to break the law? Ask our founding fathers.

If it were Americans breaking the law in this case, you'd be making a point. I encourage Mexicans to break the law to improve their lot at home, but you'll forgive me if I'm not enthusiastic about them breaking our laws to reap the benefits of that system of laws. Breaking the law implies a knowledge of and a shit given about law to begin with, neither of which I believe to be present in most illegal immigrants' reasons for crossing the river. I dare say legal immigration involves fewer difficulties and deadly dangers than illegal immigration, but I don't think risk analysis enters into it for most people. They want to get out of Mexico and they do it the only way they know how.

Rogers is dead right on the employer enforcement. For some reason it has essentially disappeared in recent years, and it's the one thing that actually has an effect on the whole system.

My ancestors came to Texas in 1832 (four years before the Battle of the Alamo was fought), as illegal immigrants on what was then Mexican soil. Too many citizens of the United States don't know that New Mexico, Arizona and California also were once part of Mexico. All of California and parts of the other two were wrested from the Mexican government in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, which resulted in a forced sale of those territories to the U.S.

"The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war and gave the U.S. undisputed control of Texas (Mexico had never recognised the independence of Texas after the Texas Revolution of 1836) as well as California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming." [Quoted from Wikipedia]

Didn't Solomon say there's nothing new under the sun? I quote: "This war is a nondescript", declared Whig leader Robert Toombs of Georgia, "we charge the president with usurping the war-making power..."

...the president was criticized in a House amendment to a bill...for "a war unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States."

Still singing the same song, aren't we?

RCADE if they dont have a visa they are ILLEGAL. I know you love these people but they are ILLEGAL. Get them the fuck out of my country!!!

Nothing like high-toned discourse. The immigrants coming to the United States from Mexico, legally or not, are the Native Americans and Mestizos who make up the majority of its population. They are disenfranchised socially in their own country by a government immobilized by institutional inertia. Mexico will never have an economy robust enough to generate jobs for these people as long as they are governed by an 'elite' of 'European' ancestry.

"as long as they are governed by an 'elite' of 'European' ancestry"

Bullshit. The govt is corrupt not because of ancestry but because they are paid off by drug lords. And as far as Mexico's robust economy I could give a shit. After we build the wall put up the NG on the border they can fend for themselves. If we have 12 million illegals maybe 1 million are worth keeping the rest we should dump on the other side of the border. If they won't leave by freewill maybe a bullet in the ass will help convice them. La Raza can cram their undocumented immigrant status up their ass. They are illegals and need to be expelled!!

Well, sure, but how does that change the fact that Fiona Apple sucks?

And Vince, if we got a territory the size of the American Southwest out of the Iraq war, I think we'd all be a lot happier. Look out, world. Next time, we're keepin' it!

My feeling is that it is your responsibility to use the phrase "illegal immigrants" when discussing those who are breaking the law.

Only using the term "immigrants" brings a negative connotation to the word that describes those who are here legally.

"A note to Jackass, who keeps commenting on my personal blog because he's lost access to the Retort: When I wrote "if you want to participate under this moderation, great," I wasn't reopening the doors to the users who've been banned.

Find another site you like better."

I did right here!

That's funny, so I'll keep it here. But you need to stop using unrelated weblog posts on Workbench for complaints about the Retort. I'm deleting that stuff when I see it.

An aside to Uncle Mikey:

[I think the monumental $600 million American Embassy complex being built in Baghdad with U.S. tax dollars speaks for itself about the United States' plans to maintain a presence in Iraq, not to mention the construction of "enduring bases" like Balad, constructed by KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, naturally. Does anyone want to bet whether the U.S. will have an enduring military presence in Iraq? We still don't have a monument or office towers at ground zero of the World Trade Center site.]

After the election of President James K. Polk in 1845, "American expansionists wanted California in order to have a port on the Pacific Ocean, which would allow the United States to participate in the lucrative trade with Asia."

Polk sent diplomat John Slidell to negotiate the sale of "...the Mexican provinces of California and New Mexico (which then covered all of the present-day southwest United States.)" Slidell was rebuffed by the new Mexican President Paredes y Arrillaga.

President Polk used this rejection of Slidell's mission and the Thornton Affair (a Mexican cavalry attack on an American troop in disputed Texas territory) as a casus belli. "A joint session of Congress overwhelmingly approved a declaration of war."

I believe the 'average' citizen of the U.S., the person you pass on the street, probably has no idea that all of the southwestern United States once belonged to Mexico. I'd bet the 'average' Mexican on the street is much more likely to know it.

Ulysses S. Grant went so far (further than I would) as to say, "The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times."

[Quoted from the Wikipedia article on the Mexican-American War]

The government of Mexico was corrupt long before there was an illegal drug trade. (I can't imagine who this 'truth' might be--let's see, someone who expresses himself almost exclusively in abusive outbursts of vulgarity, and seems to have a penchant for guns. Who could that be?)


I think your instinct is correct here. The term "illegal", in this context, as ceased to be a purely technical description; it is now laden with moral judgement, and hence is to be avoided if possible. The same goes for the word "terrorist" for example. There have been long discussions about the impartiality of that term on Wikipedia, and the concensus is to avoid it.

It is distressing to see such reactionary bigots here in your comments section. As for "Jackass" I would delete that racist shit on sight. If he wants to drag the discourse into the sewer, let him do it on someone else's blog.

To Jackass, et al:

I had a casual conversation with the retired CEO of a large furniture company. He praised the work ethic of the Mexican nationals employed in his factories. Everyone I know who has employed Mexican immigrants, from a landscape company owner to a ship's captain, has spoken well of them.

Most of the social problems associated with Mexican ethnicity in the U.S. seem to occur in the barrios of California and the larger towns of the Southwestern U.S., especially near the border. The presence of well-organized Chicano gangs in U.S. prisons is a nagging problem.

I can't see that your racist rhetoric will contribute anything meaningful to the public dialogue on this issue, or lead to any solutions of the 'problems' you perceive.

Maybe I should post links to all the heinous crimes illegals commit everyday. Maybe I should post links to how they suppress wages and soak up all our welfare. Come to california. They have made my homes tate a third world country.

"He praised the work ethic of the Mexican nationals employed in his factories."

Of course he liked them. They work for 3 dollars an hour. They probably are decent workers when not all coked up.

Let's just deport all the jackasses.

I think a journalistic principle that's often lost is not injecting yourself into the story. The line between editorializing and reporting is regularly blurred, but someone whose profession is to deal in language should know the subtle workings of their editing. I think bearing on the side of neutrality is more courageous than sensationalist or inflammatory headlines which seek to do more than just inform.

It's a shame to have such a thoughtful post marred by so many thoughtless trolls. I guess there's always someone who gets a kick out of stomping someone else's sand castle.

If I had paid for it, you'd have a point. Since I didn't, you're a poobasket.

How much coke can you buy at $3/hour?

Well, Rogers, I suppose you will agree that this effort, described as a Bush conspiracy, is beneficial and supportive of those who are moral, conservative, Catholic Hispanics merely seeking a better life?

The Task Force is pleased to provide specific advice on how the partnership can be pursued and realized.
To that end, the Task Force proposes the creation by 2010 of a North American community to enhance security, prosperity, and opportunity. We propose a community based on the principle affirmed in the March 2005 Joint Statement of the three leaders that "our security and prosperity are mutually dependent and complementary." Its boundaries will be defined by a common external tariff and an outer security perimeter within which the movement of people, products, and capital will be legal, orderly, and safe. Its goal will be to guarantee a free, secure, just, and prosperous North America.

Why would anyone cross the desert, suffocate themself in the back of a locked truck and risk becoming a criminal when they could ride, walk across a border by merely showing and ID and getting a temporary visa? Then, if they worked, have withholding taken from their earnings?

Just like anyone here, now, can do by working in one "state" and living in another ...

A North American Common Market and free movement ... liberty, equality, fraternity ...

Welcome to the New Peoples Republic of Mexifornia! I live in California and I see the damage done by these "Illegal Alien Lawbreakers" each day. It's funny when the tried and true argument "We were all immigrants at one time and you Americans stole this land from the noble Mexicans..." is used to bludgen U.S. citizens into compliance and submission. These statements and the ridiculous ideology of the "New Emigrant Nation" will only lead to one conclusion. Here is their True Intent 1) "We have an aging white America .... They are dying.... They are ******** in their pants with fear! I love it!" "We have got to eliminate the gringo, and what I mean by that is if the worst comes to the worst, we have got to kill him." And since 1970, he has professed, "Our devil has pale skin and blue eyes."Jose Gutierrez - La Raza.
2) "The American Southwest seems to be slowly returning to the jurisdiction of Mexico without the firing of a single shot." Excelsior, Mexico City, 1982.
3)[In Spanish]"...anyone who wants to defend the interests of Mexico in whichever country they reside [must] augment their political power in order to make it within that country's rules. One way to achieve that objective is to make it easier for them to vote in the elections, through acquiring U.S. citizenship..." Jorge A. Bustamante, College President Excelsior, Mexico City, March 27, 1995.
My advice is canned goods and shotguns, we will need then.

The act of being with-out the proper documents is not a criminal act. Its no more than a "civil offense"; however, with the use of racist rhetoric as "illegal alien" people begin to think that those who are undocummented are people without rights. A slippery slope that will ultimately hurt the USA since all its history is based on immigration. How Ironic, eh? No one is "illegal!"

To Last of the Mohicans, truth-doom-mongers, and the like:

America is the MOST powerfull country in the world, how can you be scared by a bunch of unskilled undocumented workers????? America has the STRONGEST army in the world, how can a few immigrants pose any threat to America???? (mexicans represent only 4% of USA population). There is NO way on earth that mexican immigrants could ever challenge mighty America. Please, have more faith in the strenght of your country.

So stop fighting vulnerable immigrant groups and fight some real enemies. Who is the guilty one, the undocumented worker who is trying to feed his familiy or corporate America who is creating economic distress and unemployment all around the world?????? Don't you understand that if you kick out all immigrants then coroporate America will take your jobs to China (by half the price of an immigrant)???????????

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