The Semantics of Illegal Immigration

The NYT highlights the variety of phrases we use to describe people who reside in the United States illegally:

Murky self-described patriot groups call them "terrorists." On combative talk radio shows the term is "illegal aliens." Advocates for immigrants prefer the Emma Lazarus-evoking "economic refugees."

The most common label attached to the estimated 12 million foreign-born people living in the United States without visas may be "illegal immigrants," even though some grammarians argue that the adjective can modify actions and things (like left turns and hallucinogenic drugs) but not people. President Bush, a proponent of offering citizenship to at least some of them, has used the more optimistic and implicitly promising term "undocumented immigrants."

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