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The Difference Between “Illegal Immigrants” and “Undocumented Immigrants”

What is the difference between an “illegal immigrant” and an undocumented immigrant?”  That is the question that came up on Oct 16 when Diverse posted an article on our Facebook page by the Dallas Morning News titled “Thousands of Illegal Immigrants Paying In-State Tuition Rates Also Get Texas Financial Aid.”

As a follow up, we discovered this article  by the Texas Tribune which discussed the story in detail.

In our post, we asked our Facebook followers to share their thoughts. Here are some comments that caught our attention:

Emilia Avalos: Let’s drop the “I” word. Undocumented immigrants pay taxes, we all do better when we all do better 🙂

Becky PĂ©rez: Undocumented families and youth Pay taxes
 Anytime you purchase something you pay a tax. Many take out private loans or work two jobs just to finish. Like other populations we have to look at the big picture, they are here, they want to contribute to society. To our American fabric, what happens when kids drop out? Think about the community as a whole, there are issues with how we feel entitled to things. What we should fight for are our tax dollars that ate being used to fund privatization of schools, or our bailouts of major corporations. Let’s focus on big companies not immigration that is a scapegoat for our American economic troubles.

Stavan Corbett For Board of Regents District 4: Undocumented is the correct term
 individuals themselves are not illegal
 In our Country every human deserves access to education at a level playing field. Especially if they were raised in the state they and have been empowered to further their education, hopes and dreams

This got us thinking about the use of the word “illegal immigrants” in not only the media but also in every day life. As a result, we decided to address the comments on our Facebook page by highlighting the difference between “illegal immigrants” and “undocumented immigrants”.  

In 2010, the National Public Radio did an interview titled “Which Is Acceptable: ‘Undocumented’ vs. ‘Illegal’ Immigrant?”

Listen to the audio and read the transcript below:



This topic has once again drawn focus at the second presidential debate on Oct 16.

“President Barack Obama, an advocate for a pathway to citizenship for the country’s 11.2 million undocumented immigrants, avoided using the term “illegal immigrant” at Tuesday night’s debate,” the Huffington Post article stated. “GOP candidate Mitt Romney, who favors policies cracking down on illegal immigration, instead opted for the term “illegals.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas has also gotten people debating about the use of this term in the media. According to a Huffington Post article, Vargas  has pushed for media to drop the term “illegal immigrant” since coming out as undocumented last year, arguing that the modifier is offensive and inaccurate because it criminalizes people rather than their actions.


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