Illegalized Immigrants

What should we call people without a valid resident permit? Many refer to them as illegal immigrants. This is problematic as people aren’t illegal, their residence without a valid permit is. There are many — well-meant — alternative terms in use: irregular immigrants, undocumented, precarious, sans-papiers, etc.

A more recent addition is the term illegalized immigrants. It shifts the focus from the individual and the outcome to the process. In many situations this is desirable. Unfortunately, it leaves a question unanswered: “made illegal by whom?” The implication is that “the system” is to blame. That can be seen as marxist and importantly glosses over the fact that “the system” is made up of individuals and their actions.

The term deportable takes a somewhat different approach. It highlights the fact that people without a valid resident permit can be deported. Unfortunately it isn’t precise as it does not draw a difference between those who are under immediate threat of deportation, those for whom deportation is a real possibility, and those for whom deportation is a technical possibility (which includes immigrants with valid resident permits).

Deportability as a term seems to avoid the connotations the term illegalized immigrants has, namely that people without valid resident permits are disenfranchised and deprived of their rights. While they certainly do not enjoy the same rights as other residents, we should not forget that an immigrant threatened by deportation are very much part of society in that they have rights to education, rights to healthcare, rights to family, etc. They do not have the same rights, but they are protected by the constitution and basic rights granted.

What I like about the term illegalized immigrants is that it s immediately recognizable when you first come across it, and that it invites you to think a bit. It is no panacea as it lacks clarity. There does not appear to be a term to cover all situations, but then again we should always spell out what we mean rather than hide behind a vague term… people without a valid resident permit who are nonetheless resident…

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