In an item about how Arizona Senator John McCain is sticking to his characterization of illegal immigrants as "illegal," Kevin Cirilli at the Politico relayed without the least bit of skepticism a claim by illegal-immigrant advocates that those who enter the country illegally should only be called "illegal" if they have previously been deported, and that those who illegally overstay their visas really aren't acting illegally at all.
McCain's current position (who knows what it will be tomorrow or a week for now?), as quoted by Cirilli, is that "Someone who crosses our borders illegally is here illegally. You can call it whatever you want to, but it’s illegal. I think there’s a big difference between someone who does something that’s illegal and someone who’s undocumented. I’ll continue to call it illegal.” Illegal-immigrant advocates -- incorrectly, as will be seen -- don't see it that way (bolds are mine throughout this post):
"Latino groups and the American Civil Liberties Union have advocated for the use of “undocumented” worker as opposed to “illegal immigrant,” arguing that being in violation of immigration laws is not a crime unless the immigrant was deported and then returns to the U.S. without permission, as The Wisconsin State Journal noted in 2010."
The referenced Wisconsin State Journal item reads as follows, in part:
Latino groups draw a clear distinction between the terms, arguing that "illegal immigrant" distorts the debate because it suggests the person is a criminal or dangerous.
The American Civil Liberties Union issued a brief on the issue in February and said the act of being present in the U.S. in violation of immigration laws is not, standing alone, a crime. "Unauthorized presence in the U.S. is criminally punishable only if it occurs after an individual was previously formally removed from the U.S. and then returned without permission," it said.
Many undocumented immigrants enter the U.S. legally but overstay their visas, which is a civil violation, not a crime, the ACLU said. That's the basis for the argument used by local groups such as Latinos United for Change and Advancement, which strongly opposes use of "illegal immigrant" and prefers "undocumented worker."
Sorry, guys. No sale.
The kind of penalties one is subjected to -- civil or criminal -- has nothing to do with whether or not an act is illegal (i.e., "prohibited by law"). Entering or attempting to enter the United States is an illegal act subject to criminal penalties. Overstaying one's visa is an illegal act subject to civil penalties. Both are illegal acts. Characterizing anyone who has committed either act as "illegal" is correct. Pretending otherwise is fundamentally dishonest.
Really, McCain would be totally justified in using the term "alien" ("a resident born in or belonging to another country who has not acquired citizenship by naturalization") to describe both illegal entrants and visa overstayers.
Of course, the establishment press usually refuses to describe both groups as illegal immigrants or illegal aliens, when both groups are. "Undocumented worker" is a term which communicates nothing except the ignorance, political agenda, or both, of the person using the term. Cirilli, as is so often the case, let the agenda fly right on in.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.