It’s time to unpack the phrase “Illegal Alien”

Supporters of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), demonstrate on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington on Sept. 3, 2017. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Supporters of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), demonstrate on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington on Sept. 3, 2017. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

I want to take a moment to write about undocumented immigration. Sometime today, President Trump is going to make a decision on DACA that will, whatever decision is made, affect the lives of almost a million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

For those who haven’t been paying attention these last few years, DACA stands for Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals. DACA is program created by the Obama administration to allow undocumented immigrants brought as children to the United States the opportunity to attend college, get a job etc. More importantly, it defers the chance of deportation for two years and allows the chance to renew.

At the time of writing, the country has zero idea what decision President Trump is going to make. During his campaign he talked about repealing DACA, but what Trump says and what he does are two very different things. There’s a Politico story floating around on the webs somewhere but everything in it is basically speculation because nothing with Trump is really clear until he gives an official statement.

My thoughts on DACA and undocumented immigration are out there. You can read the final extent of my reporting of the situation on the UConn campus here. I’ve been of the mindset that everyone should have access to the same resources as everyone else, that includes immigrants, undocumented or not.

In a few hours, we’ll have an official statement from the White House about what exactly will be happening to DACA. As I said before, there’s no point in speculating about what will happen.

I do, however, want to address one of the elephants in the room: the way we view and talk about undocumented immigrants. Listen to any conservative talk about immigration (or any subject really) and one of the first things that they’ll say is that the United States needs to “remove illegal aliens” from this country. They blame these “illegal aliens” for everything that is going on in the country and use them as scapegoats.

Close your eyes for a second and imagine the term “alien”. What comes to mind? Probably something not human. Now throw the word “illegal” in front of it. What do you get? Who knows, maybe an alien in a prison jumpsuit. Can you see what I’m getting at?

Calling somebody an illegal alien should never be the wording that you use. Not because it’s not “politically correct” but because those two words completely dehumanize the situation that these people are in and the hardships they have endured.

We don’t call people who come to the U.S. via the legal channels “legal aliens” we call them Americans. They gave up their old lives in order to work for a better life in the United States. We honor that commitment by treating them like human beings and giving them rights. Shouldn’t that liberty apply to everyone?

At the end of the day, every single undocumented immigrant in this country is a person. Can we all agree that? Which means they can’t be illegal. No human being is illegal. And just like no human being can be illegal, no human being can be alien. I don’t care how the dictionary defines “alien”, in everyday speech, alien is use to define something not from this world. These immigrants are very clearly from this world.

Calling immigrants illegal aliens makes it very easy to see them differently for yourself. It allows people to dehumanize them and make them seem like some kind threatening population. Immigration reform is one of the largest human rights challenges of our time. Without knowledge of them being undocumented, every single one of these immigrants is a member of our community just trying to make their lives better. Where I come from, we try and help members of our community not force them out.

Immigrants are people, undocumented or not. Let’s actually treat them as people, in words and in actions. It’s the human thing to do.


Amar Batra is a senior staff photographer and weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email amar.batra@uconn.edu. He tweets at @amar_batra19.