Earlier this month Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson made it clear that he was against using the term ‘illegal immigrant’ and that he preferred the term ‘undocumented’. The issue of what to call illegal aliens is often discussed, see John Lee’s previous post and the general page on the topic.
Conservatives object to calling illegal aliens “migrants” on the grounds that it justifies their actions as a viable form of migration. Some in the alt-right go as far as to claim that “alien” is the proper term as it makes it clearer that ‘white’ countries are being invaded. The left on the other hand objects to the term “illegal” as it dehumanizes individuals. No human is illegal – so goes that slogan. The alternative term proposed is “undocumented”.
I am indifferent to the distinction between migrant and alien. I have to resist chuckling when I hear someone seriously worry about illegal aliens invading. Can I be blamed? My home state of California is littered with Spanish place names – Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, etc. What would the point of an invasion be at this stage? To rename Bakersfield to San Panadero?
It is the promotion of the term “undocumented” term that concerns me. Just as no human is illegal, I see no reason why we should promote the idea that humans should be documented. To me being “documented” conjures up the image of a dystopian future where we are branded with identification numbers that are needed for every little transaction. Indeed, I consider the term undocumented to be worse than illegal since it implies that all individuals, including natural born citizens, should be documented in this manner. At minimum the term implicitly justifies a program like e-verify, a de facto form of national ID in the United States, which makes one’s right to work dependent on government approval.
This is not to mean that an open borders regime would do away with all forms of identification. It would be possible to still require potential migrants to undergo a background check in order to screen out criminals. However there is a difference between a background check and requiring everyone, migrant and natives alike, to constantly present documentation.
Both terms then, illegal and undocumented, should be objected to. Alternative terms have similar failings. “Dreamer”, a moniker used to describe to illegal aliens who entered as children and are pursuing higher education, implicitly suggests that “normal” illegal aliens should be deported. “Unauthorized” still implies, if subtly, that states have the right to restrict migration.
I personally prefer the term illegal alien because, at least in the United States, I think open border advocacy needs to be focused towards conservatives. This is not to mean that the left has embraced open borders mind you, but there are more leftists in the movement than conservatives. I am willing to concede the terminology debate if it means that there is more time to make the rest of the case for open borders.
Political considerations aside, what should these individuals be called? I think the answer should be obvious to open border advocates: humans. Under open borders all individuals are humans with the same inherent rights.