The Ten Parts of 'Illegal' in 'Illegal Immigration' that I Do Not Understand

Report Author: 
Kari E. Hong
Original Date of Publication: 
April, 2017

The author frames this paper as a response to the question often asked by those in favor of harsher immigration enforcement - "What part of illegal in illegal immigration do you not understand?" While the paper specifies ten distinct problems with the concept of "illegal immigrant," several themes arise. For example, the author refutes the idea that those who are undocumented are willingly in this status. Rather, the immigration system as presently constituted makes it difficult for individuals to apply for changes in status.  Although roughly 50 percent of applicants are allowed to become legal residents when their cases are heard, the wait to actually appear before a judge can run from 3 to 7 years. There is a current backlog of 500,000 cases. The author also points out that previous generations of unauthorized immigrants faced different laws and were able to more easily change their status. Thus, a key conclusion of the paper is that the "illegal immigrant crisis" is actually a creation of changes in law and policy, so "solving" the problem is a matter of changing policy to make it easier to gain status rather than increasing the budget for deportation. The author suggests that a more accurate term for "illegal immigrant" might be "pre-legal immigrant." The author also details the ways that violations of immigration law are not analogous to committing a crime and provides examples of ways that immigration violations are viewed under the law. Finally, the author argues for recognizing the economic contributions of unauthorized immigrants. (Erik Jacobson, Montclair State University)

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Report File: 

Hong, K. E. (2017). The Ten Parts of “Illegal” in “Illegal Immigration” that I Do Not Understand. UC Davis Law Review Online, 50(43), 14.

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