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Aliens need legalization, not protection from being called ‘illegal.’ By Nolan Rappaport

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Recently, CNN obtained a copy of a Justice Department email to the U.S. Attorneys offices that updates instructions on describing alien status in press releases.

It requires them to use the term, “illegal alien,” when the unlawful presence of an alien is an established fact. If the lawfulness of an alien’s status is uncertain, they are required to use a reference to his country of citizenship. For instance, if he is from Canada, they are supposed to refer to him as “a Canadian citizen.” The term “undocumented” should never be used to describe illegal presence in the United States. It has no basis in the U.S. Code.

Aliens here unlawfully should be far more concerned about being deported than they are about the names people call them, but advocacy groups have claimed that calling them “illegal aliens” causes serious harm.

According to Race Forward’scampaign to Drop the I-Word, it is dehumanizing, racist, and legally inaccurate to call someone an “illegal alien.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recently blasted GOP legislators for using the term. She claims that it is not constructive.

La Clínica del Pueblo has launched a “No Human Being is Illegal” campaign. They were inspired by Elie Wiesel who said, “You who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is illegal. … Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal?”

Are these pejorative connotations coming from the people who use the term, or do they only exist in the minds of the people who dislike “illegal alien?” And when did it start being wrong to use that expression. Democrats used to refer to aliens here unlawfully as “illegal aliens” or “illegal immigrants.”

In any case, this debate fosters bad feelings on both sides and diverts attention from the threat of deportation, which is a much more serious matter.


Published originally on The Hill.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years.

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Updated 07-29-2018 at 01:08 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs

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  1. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    This is not just an argument over words; it is an argument over policy and over the future of America as a country of racial equality governed by the rule of law.

    "Illegal aliens" is a pejorative term which white supremacists have used for many years to attack and demonize all non-white immigrants, regardless of status or lack of it, as The Guardian describes in a 2015 article:

    Repeatedly using this term is designed to stir up public opinion against all non-white immigrants, just as Joseph Goebbels' slogan:

    "Die Juden sind unser Unglueck"

    ("The Jews are our disaster")

    stirred up hatred against the people whom Hitler selected for extermination.

    Of course, neither the Trump administration's rhetoric nor its policies of dehumanizing and demonizing both legal and illegal brown immigrants are in any danger of leading to genocide or mass extermination of an entire people, as took place in the Holocaust.

    But this kind of abusive language does make it easier to gain support for drastic cutbacks in legal immigration by non-white immigrants, which is exactly what Trump is asking Congress for (and trying to bully Congress into agreeing to by repeated government shutdown threats if he doesn't get his way).

    Use of this racially charged term and similar other dehumanizing language against brown immigrants also very arguably helped to set the stage or Trump's latest family separation atrocities against non-white immigrant children at the Mexican border, which are still the subjects of widespread allegations of horrific child abuse, including shackling brown immigrant children in dog cages and ICE boxes.

    Therefore, while Nolan may be right as an abstract principle in saying that that being targeted with abusive language such as "illegal alien" is still better than actually being deported, the price that Trump is demanding for a legalization deal - major cutbacks on non-white legal immigration in addition to the border wall which is in some sense a distraction from his ultimate goal of an all-white immigration system - is too heavy a price to pay.

    And there is no doubt that Trump knows this. That is why his "framework" for agreeing to legalization in any form - involving abolishing the visa lottery and most family-based immigration - both of which have greatly increased legal immigration from non-white parts of the world over the past decades - will never be adopted by Congress as long as America remains a democracy - however long that might be under this president.

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
    Updated 07-29-2018 at 05:54 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs
  2. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    Roger manages to misunderstand almost every article I post on, and with very few, if any exceptions, he uses the comment section for my articles to espouse his hatred of Trump and his obsessive interest in fostering non-white immigration.

    If he reads section 203 of the INA, he will see that immigrant visas cannot be allocated on the basis of skin color.

    If he wants to shift the allocation in favor of non-white immigrants, he should lobby congress to revise the INA accordingly instead of bemoaning the sad state of non-white immigration on

    Nolan Rappaport
    Updated 07-29-2018 at 06:11 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs
  3. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    The fact that I disagree with Nolan on the wisdom of Donald Trump's immigration policies (and I am hardly the only person in America who does so) does not in any way lessen my great respect for Nolan as a distinguished authority on immigration law.

    Having said that, I also respectfully submit that my above comments expressing disagreement with his two main points - 1) that using the term "illegal alien" (which appears nowhere in any immigration statute or regulation - "alien" appears all the time, of course, but never together with "illegal") is not all that terrible or harmful; and 2) that Trump might be offering immigrants who are without legal status a good deal on legalization - are by no means out of place or illegitimate in response to Nolan's views.

    My above comments are germane on both points and the mere fact that I disagree with Nolan's propositions on these two questions does not make my commenting on them inappropriate.

    This will conclude my response to Nolan's above article. I have made my points and there is nothing further that I need to say.

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
    Updated 07-30-2018 at 12:31 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs
  4. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    Roger has stated objections to two of the assertions in my article:

    1) that using the term "illegal alien" (which he claims appears nowhere in any immigration statute or regulation) is not all that terrible or harmful; and

    Actually the term “illegal alien” appears in many places. See

    It was used by the Democrats until they decided to claim that republicans who use it hate and dehumanize aliens here unlawfully. I provide a link for this point in the article.

    I never said it isn’t terrible or harmful. The Democrats are using it to stir up false animosity towards the Republicans.

    2) that Trump might be offering immigrants who are without legal status a good deal on legalization - are by no means out of place or illegitimate in response to Nolan's views.

    Actually, I never said Trump is offering them a good deal on legalization. I said that he is the only one who is offering them legalization. The Democrats never have, and their failure to do it during the first two years of Obama’s administration when they could have done it without a single Republican vote indicates that they never will.

    Roger also objects to the conditions in Trump’s to abolish the visa lottery and most family-based immigration.

    If Roger had read my article instead of scanning it for things he could disagree with, he would know that the Democrats have no interest in keeping the visa lottery. I point out that Sen. Schumer’s gang of eight bill would have terminated it if it had passed, and I happen to know that the version of that bill that the House was working on at that time also would have abolished it.

    As for abolishing most family-based immigration (Actually just chain migration, which also was recommended by the Jordan Commission and approved by Bill Clinton), I point out that the effect of that condition could be made acceptable by using a new category for SIJ status for the legalization program. That would limit the termination of chain migration to the parents of the DACA participants who are legalized.

    What is Roger’s alternative? To wait until the next time the Dems have the power to pass a legalization program without a Republican vote and hope they do it this time?

    What’s the point of doing that? Give the 1.8 million DACA participants legal status now and eliminate the restriction on sponsoring their parents when that wonderful day comes on which the Dems again have the power to help and choose to use it this time.

    In the meantime, they would have lawful status to live and work in the US and raise families here.

    The truth is that Trump is ready, willing, and able to give them that opportunity. He is the only friend they have. Roger and the rest of the Democrats who hate Trump prevented him from helping them.

    I wonder what will happen when the 1.8 million DACA participants realize that they have been screwed by Roger and the rest of the people who are supposed to be helping them.

    Nolan Rappaport

    Updated 07-30-2018 at 07:07 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs
  5. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    To quote an admittedly hackneyed expression that has been around for more years than anyone can remember, if Donald Trump is the only friend that immigrants have, then they don't need any enemies.

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
  6. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by ImmigrationLawBlogs
    To quote an admittedly hackneyed expression that has been around for more years than anyone can remember, if Donald Trump is the only friend that immigrants have, then they don't need any enemies.

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
    Curious. That's how I would describe what you are doing to them.

    Nolan Rappaport
  7. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    Paul Schmidt made the following comment about my article when he posted it on his blog,

    I agree with Nolan that legalization should be the focus.
    I have also made a similar observation that during the first two years of the Obama Administration, Democrats could have solved what have become the three most pressing problems on the domestic front:

    • Legalization;
    • Dreamer relief; and
    • An independent U.S. Immigration Court.

    Our country and the good folks caught up the in current system are paying the price every day for these failures. But, past is past. The important thing is not to make the same mistakes again if and when the Democrats and whatever “moderate” Republicans still remain get a chance to act.

    I hope he is right in thinking that the Democrats just made a mistake when they didn't do those things when they had the chance, as opposed to the implication I drew in my article that helping the "undocumented aliens" just isn't important to them.

    Nolan Rappaport
  8. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    Here's a hypo: Suppose Donald Trump said to the Democrats (and moderate Republicans) that he is willing to sign a law granting full permanent resident status to every single "illegal alien" in the US today if Congress agrees to repeal the immigration reform law of 1965 which eliminated the race based "national origins" immigration quotas of the 1924 immigration act, and reinstate that openly racist law - which barred most of the world's population except Northern Europeans ("Countries like Norway," in Trumpspeak) from immigrating to the US.

    Would any Senator or Congressman today vote to go back to those days, no matter how generous the legalization proposal was?

    Steve King and Tom Cotton might, for sure. Sessions also voiced support for returning to that racist 1924 statute when he was a Senator.

    Certainly, no Democrat would ever consider such a monstrous proposal. Nor would very many of today's Republicans.

    But Trump is, in effect offering something similar on a more limited scale: Legalize a handful of immigrants - namely some DACA recipients as the price for abolishing the visa lottery and most family immigration - the backbones of racial equality and diversity in our current system - in favor of a phony "merit based" system designed to favor immigrants from wealthy countries with wide access to education - i.e. Europe.

    That is just a modified, mini-version of the hypo I gave above.

    Of course the answer from the Democrats - and fair-minded Republicans - has to be "No Deal".

    Does that mean that they are anti-immigrant or don't want to help the Dreamers?

    Of course not. It only means that they don't want to be mugged or held hostage on immigration policy.

    Or look at it it this way in terms of football:

    The Democrats arguably dropped the ball on immigration during President Obama's first term.

    But Trump and his Republican enablers are now running off with the goalposts. Which is more serious?

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law

    Updated 08-09-2018 at 05:51 AM by ImmigrationLawBlogs
  9. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    Nolan is right that the Democrats in the Gang of Eight and in the Senate were willing to give up the Diversity Visa lottery (not family immigration which has affected many more immigrants over the years than the Diversity Visa) in return for a CIR that would have legalized millions of unauthorized immigrants.

    This was not because the Democrats were against the lottery. They were only taking Nolan's frequently repeated advice that a truly bipartisan deal has to serve the political interests of both parties.

    An open, give and take discussion is the best way to illuminate points relating to immigration law and policy.

    Rewriting history is not.

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
    Updated 08-10-2018 at 05:21 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs
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