Editor's Note: The following post has been slightly adapted from its original publication at Liberty Unyielding.
Aliens are foreigners, not citizens, as one can see from dictionary definitions. So they do not include the typical immigrant, who is a naturalized citizen. It was thus inaccurate for The Washington Post’s Jenna Portnoy to write a story last Thursday claiming that the House of Representatives had passed a bill allowing “immigrants” to be deported if they are criminal gang members, when in fact the bill was aimed at “aliens.” (“Bill lets officials deport immigrants for gang ties,” Sept. 15, pp. B1 & B5).
But the very name of the bill, the “Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act,” shows it is aimed at aliens, not immigrants. The more accurate Washington Examiner story on the bill observed:
The Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act passed in a 233-175 vote, and was backed largely by GOP lawmakers, and opposed by most Democrats. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va.
The bill would require illegal immigrants in gangs to be detained and deported, and ensures that gang members are not able to receive immigration benefits, including asylum, special immigrant juvenile status or temporary protected status.
“It will provide additional tools to law enforcement that will ensure that when [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] positively identifies a known alien gang member, they may act immediately,” Comstock said on the House floor. “We don’t have to wait until these brutal killers wield their machetes or leave another body on a children’s playground.”
By contrast, The Washington Post wrote that “the House on Thursday passed a bill introduced by Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) that would expand the authority of the federal government to deport or detain immigrants who are gang members or suspected of gang activity.”
The Washington Post’s erroneous conflation of “immigrant” with “alien,” when many immigrants are citizens, was not only factually incorrect, but left the misimpression that this bill might be unconstitutional (The Post story said the bill was “slammed” by the ACLU). Aliens can often be deported for associations with dangerous, unsavory groups that citizens cannot be, under Supreme Court rulings such as Reno v. American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (1999).
Aliens are not citizens. Aliens include both illegal aliens, and legal aliens, such as people temporarily allowed in the country to study or work (such as H-1B visas). Illegal aliens are sometimes misleadingly referred to as “illegal immigrants,” even though they have no legal right to remain in the country, and thus are not “immigrants.” Because they are aliens, not immigrants, the Supreme Court — even its liberal justices — have referred to them as “illegal aliens,” as the Justices did in Arizona v. United States (2012), which ruled that certain Arizona regulations aimed at illegal aliens were preempted by federal law.
Journalists often seem confused about what to call illegal aliens. Many in the press call them “undocumented immigrants,” which is inaccurate, because “undocumented” is vague and euphemistic, and they are not legally entitled to remain in the country (indeed, they often return home), and thus are not “immigrants.” Others call them “illegal immigrants” which is less inaccurate, but also leaves the misimpression that they are legally entitled to remain.
The Associated Press tries to avoid calling them either “undocumented” immigrants” or “illegal” immigrants, preferring to just refer to them as just people in the “country illegally.” It recognizes that “undocumented” is wrong, because many “people in the country illegally have documents, just not the right ones.” But it fails to use the most precise, shortest, legally accurate term, “illegal alien.”