What’s in a Name?

When it comes to furthering their narrative about illegal aliens, the anti-borders lobby will stop at nothing. One of the most disturbing aspects of their strategy is the attempt to redesign reality by changing the common names of things. Contrary to the assertions made by post-modernist academics, words do have concrete meanings. The terms we use to describe the world are not just names appended to objects, they represent ideas. Change the name and you frequently change the idea.

CNN Money recently featured a piece called “Why Undocumented Immigrants Pay Taxes.” The piece quotes Jose Magaña-Salgado, a policy attorney at the anti-borders National Immigrant Legal Resource Center (NILRC) on why those unlawfully present in the United States pay taxes. He says, “First of all, it’s the law. And these undocumented immigrants are trying to abide by the law and are fulfilling their civic and financial responsibilities.”

The only reason Mr. Magaña-Salgado can make that assertion with a semi-straight face is the use of the deliberately misleading term “undocumented immigrant.” Replace “undocumented immigrants” with “illegal aliens” and the patent illogic of his statement becomes readily apparent: “First of all it’s the law. And these [illegal aliens] are trying to abide by the law….” In other words, illegal aliens are law abiding folks. And if he had said it plainly, just like that, readers might have questioned his judgment as an attorney, if not his sanity. Because, by definition, an illegal act cannot be law abiding.

That’s why the illegal aliens and their supporters love the term “undocumented immigrant.” It makes it sound as though aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States are just like native-born Americans, except for those documents that they don’t have. It is a verbal construction intended to gloss over the serious national security, public safety, economic, and sovereignty concerns raised by illegal migration. It also trivializes violations of the INA, reducing them to something akin to paying an added late fee when you forget to renew your driver’s license. Something that you’re not supposed to forget, but if you do, it won’t land you in jail for six months.

It’s certainly not truthful, when the NILRC claims that “undocumented immigrants” are law abiding but, for the casual listener, it doesn’t sound quite as manifestly insane as using “illegal” and “law-abiding” in the same sentence. And it becomes easier to make the follow-on argument: that “undocumented immigrants” should have their immigration status “regularized.” So, the NILRC, the American Civil Liberties Union and other illegal alien advocacy groups continue to push the absurd notion that immigration violators haven’t “really” violated any laws, in an effort to linguistically eliminate legal principles that they dislike. Rather than seeking legislative repeal of Immigration and Nationality Act, they’re attempting to verbally re-define it out of existence.

Ideas have consequences. And the idea of the “undocumented immigrant” is a bad one that should be expunged from the public debate on immigration. There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their true names.” If we want to get smart about border control, then we should insist that everyone call immigration violators exactly what they are – illegal aliens.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar

    Why you should take me seriously ?
    Because I have been married to an immigrant for 30 years.
    #1. Illegal aliens are not “invited” into this country. Check the legislation before saying something so ridiculous. It is unlawful and therefore illegal to enter this country without permission. Ditto into my home , whether through my front door or through a broken window. Just because my window is broken it is not permission to enter my house. ( I sound so pedantic. Like i’m speaking to five year olds. Pitiful).
    How bout from now on we agree to follow and honor the legislators hard work, and the voters who made the legislation possible, and as well , our Constitution. You know : “protect and defend”!
    By the way,unlike Americans, the illegal aliens KNOW of these age old realities within the context of their own countries. They are going along with the idea that “the emperor has clothes on” because it is in their interests to do so . But, frame the issues with place names changed to that of their own country , and they have no problem saying who the good guys are and the bad guys are. They love their country and know how to protect their country and their culture.
    Looking the other way , while people work illegally right beside us , encouraged much more of the same, and in the end emptied Central America of her husbands and fathers ,her best and brightest , and ultimately leaving her open to the predators, deported gang members etc etc. It is so dangerous for them. If we had protected our border, then their men would still be there !
    Shame on us for patting ourselves on the back , telling ourselves how welcoming we are . Americans are soooooo “nice” . NOT ! ……And on, and on , and on . See how even now they are emptying out the Middle East . Chaos upon chaos. True : “the compassion of the wicked is cruel”.
    #2. DACA……..Children belong to their parents and so to the country of their parents. Period. We got ourselves into this mess by agreeing to be “nice” and provide an education for them. BIG mistake. Now they are “ours”. In what economy does that make any sense ? ! They need to take their free education ,that millions from around the world would give their right arm for , and return to their own country that desperately needs them.
    #3. Do not reward lawlessness. Ever.

  2. avatar
    Not Politically Correct on

    More political correctness run amok, We should start calling drug dealers “undocumented pharmacists” and rapists “non consentual sexual partners”

  3. avatar


    Each side of the immigration debate
    chooses the expression that most favors its own position:

    Those who want stronger enforcement of immigration laws
    prefer “illegal alien” or even “criminal alien”.
    All of these words are quite negative.

    Those who favor more open migration
    prefer “undocumented immigrant”.
    These are foreigners who somehow lack papers.
    There might even be some suggestion
    that their paperwork has been lost somewhere along the line.
    And when the missing documents turn up,
    everything will be fine again.

    Those who see the values of both sides
    prefer “unauthorized immigrant”
    “unauthorized foreign national”,
    “foreign born”,
    or “citizen of another country present without permission”.

    Such expressions do not focus on the violation of laws.
    These individual persons have standing and rights.

    Some of these “foreign born”
    will eventually become naturalized American citizens.
    Recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
    would be good examples of law-abiding
    citizens of other countries
    who have usually committed no crimes of their own.
    Their parents violated immigration laws
    when everyone entered the USA without permission.
    These young adults are not “illegal aliens” or “criminal aliens”
    in our normal ways of understanding such expressions.

    Do we want to expel harmful strangers?
    Or do we want to encourage good people from other lands
    to join our American family?
    Probably we will do both.
    And the names we use to describe the persons in question
    will show our preferences.

  4. avatar

    Matt it is pointless to spend time on terminology when the reality defines them…just simply illegal…..

  5. avatar

    All article makes a lot of sense to me. It is honest. So, US and state government should not accept tax money from Illegal aliens, right? Why does it?

    • avatar

      You’re right. All illegals should be fired and deported. We need to return to ICE going to work places and checking Social Security numbers to see if any are suspicious or being used by more that one person. Obama put a stop to it.

  6. avatar

    “illegals” = low wages ….is good for the economy in the long run. How in this world is USA going to compete with China, India if products cost much more than theirs? Taxes and all i paid 63% less for a product i got at Amazon !! Prime!! vs $15 p/h who are we kidding ??!!

    • avatar

      D German

      Low Incomes Pay Hardly Any of the Federal Taxes

      Your plan ends in federal government bankruptcy, soon at a theater near us.

      Stop the open border rich elite tax evasion….stop illegal immigration.

    • avatar

      You must be out of your mind!!! you have no concept of reality……… really pathetic…not you….your Socio Political economic….cultural……knowledge you are Zippo!!!………

    • avatar

      D German…….You must be out of your mind!!! you have no concept of reality……… really pathetic…not you….your Socio Political economic….cultural……knowledge you are Zippo!!

      you must be mildly temporarily retarded…..but it will pass……the illegals are not even in the system you banana!!! hahahaha!!!1

  7. avatar

    And the fact that We The People invited them here to make money off them…….that is the whole truth Leland/..they are not cheats…not all of them…and the majority works harder than you and me both together….get it together man…you are an easy target of the big establishment to get fooled……

    what is the big deal illegal or undocumented…perhaps you guys should take a day off and have your parents and family passed away for 20 years u dont see them and then get paid 6 dollars an hour…..and then come back and tell me again…

    • avatar

      we allowed this….and the big news Matt is all you need is to do the math……330M 20 of them not in the books u r telling me they are bringing down the best country on earth????really!!! Actually Trump is correct about the H1B NOW that is a problem not the illegals…..

      • avatar

        You’re the one who’s a fool for the establishment. It’s big business that wants wide open immigration so they can keep wages low. Since you say Trump is “correct” about H1B visas, you seem to be contradicting yourself. The reason given for restricting those is that the jobs and higher wages should go to Americans. So you’ve saying business is wrong about bringing those particular foreign workers in, but there is no problem with all the other foreign workers? They don’t lower wages for Americans? Maybe you could be a little consistent and not just babble disconnected thoughts.

        • avatar

          Leland your r so short sighted …..The Establishment owns us you dummy … Because I agree in one thing does not mean contradictory people like you n mentality have caused wars fir being so limited mentally … Ha!!! U r a real joke…They are already law abiding. N the good ones better human being s than u n I…..

          • avatar

            No, I obey the law. I would not go to another country and stay there illegally and consider myself “law abiding”. Only scattered brained fools would think so.

    • avatar

      Who’s “we”? Certainly law abiding Americans didn’t invite them only some greedy employers did in cahoots with our corrupt government and “we” the people aren’t going to stand for it or pay for it by allowing illegal aliens to remain here!

  8. avatar

    Their very presence and employment here is proof that they ignore the law. The idea that somehow they are going to turn into law abiding citizens is nonsense. They are cheats in every sense of the word.

    • avatar

      Leland where have you been living……Their very presence and employment here is proof that they were welcomed.abused and nobofy ever cared…….get it?

      • avatar

        No, it’s you that doesn’t get it. Law abiding Americans didn’t invite them here only some greedy employers did while our government looked the other way. Yes, we do care we want them deported so that Americans will get their jobs back and illegal aliens cost us $113 billion a year.