The Term Illegal Alien
A note from the dramaturg:
In the beginning of Real Women Have Curves, Ana is writing in her journal and corrects herself when she begins to refer to undocumented workers as “illegal aliens”, “Or else”, she says, “it sounds like these people come from mars.” The terminology we use when referring to people has a psychological impact on how we think of those people when it comes to policies and discrimination. Below are some resources that explore the use of the term “illegal alien.” Source.
When you label someone an "illegal alien" or "illegal immigrant" or just plain "illegal," you are effectively saying the individual, as opposed to the actions the person has taken, is unlawful. The terms imply the very existence of an unauthorized migrant in America is criminal.
The term "illegal immigrant" was first used in 1939 as a slur by the British toward Jews who were fleeing the Nazis and entering Palestine without authorization. Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel aptly said that "no human being is illegal."
Another misconception is that the vast majority of migrant workers currently out of status sneak across our southern border in the middle of the night. Actually, almost half enter the U.S. with a valid tourist or work visa and overstay their allotted time. Many go to school, find a job, get married and start a family. And some even join the Marine Corps, like Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, who was the first combat veteran to die in the Iraq War. While he was granted American citizenship posthumously, there are another 38,000 non-citizens in uniform, including undocumented immigrants, defending our country.
University of Memphis journalism professor Thomas Hrach conducted a study of 122,000 news stories published between 2000 and 2010, to determine which terms are being used to describe foreign nationals in the U.S. who are out of status. He found that 89% of the time during this period, journalists used the biased terms "illegal immigrant" and "illegal alien."