The term “illegal immigrant”



The term “illegal immigrant” (1930s- ) means an undocumented immigrant, one without papers to stay in the country. The older term was “illegal alien”, common in English in the 1970s and 1980s, rare in American news stories since 2003.

An illegal immigrant can mean someone who:

  1. crossed the border illegally,
  2. overstayed a student or tourist visa,
  3. was brought to the country as a child,
  4. is waiting for a green card,


It was first applied to Jews in Palestine in the 1930s. In America it first appeared in the Republican platform in 1986, in the Democratic one in 1996.

Since the 1980s there has been a push to get rid of it: actions are illegal, not people. Huffington Post got rid of it in 2008. The Miami Herald and MSNBC no longer use it. Then, on April 2nd 2013, the Associated Press (AP) stylebook got rid of it…

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About Dennis R. Hidalgo
I am a historian of the Atlantic World. I am passionate about people, those alive in the present and those who left little trace of their past.

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