What is an ‘Illegal Alien’?

by Blake P. Somers, Lawyer Referral Service Panelist

The term illegal alien refers to two different things:

(1)   An actual, legal term of art; and,

(2)   An overly generic and pejorative slang term.

The Immigration and Nationality Act governs nearly all aspects of issues related to immigrants, immigration, and naturalization in the United States.  It contains, quite literally, hundreds of pages. In these hundreds of pages, the term “illegal alien” appears only one time at 8 U.S.C. §1365.  The definition is open for public access, but, in order to be considered an illegal alien, the person must have been convicted of a felony, and other factors must be present.  Put short, it is an extremely specific designation within an extremely specific sub-category of individuals in the United States.  It is not, however, an accurate term to describe every single person in the United States who may be out of status, un-documented, or out of compliance with the immigration laws of the United States. In short, the term illegal alien actually “means something”, and, largely, it is over used as a shorthand.

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