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

14 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2017 Last revised: 4 May 2017

See all articles by Kari E. Hong

Kari E. Hong

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: March 28, 2017


Many who support immigration enforcement measures will justify their position by asking what part of illegal in illegal immigration do you not understand? This essay provides ten answers to that question. The term “illegal immigrant” is without legal meaning, sweeping in both undocumented immigrants and legal immigrants who commit violations, including violations which may be minor or unintentional. The presumption that some immigrants are worthy of status while others are not distracts us from appreciating that our enforcement-only immigration policies are irrational, expensive, and detrimental to our long-term interests. For over 20 years, ever since President Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, we have pursued immigration enforcement at the expense of legalizing the status of those who are contributing to our society. We have done so by demonizing immigrants in general and those whom we call “illegal immigrants” in particular. But who is illegal and who is legal is not a matter of character or an ability to follow the rules—it is a matter of pure luck, based on what the current law is. Immigrants have not changed, but our laws most certainly have. Instead of following common sense rules that allow parents of citizen children, veterans, and tax payers to remain and continue to give—which is what the old immigration law provided—we have been pursuing policies that harm our short-term economic interests, long-term economic interests, and the very fabric of society. The test of character is not for those who can or cannot follow these new arbitrary rules, but for a society that elects to enact irrational and costly policies.

Keywords: immigration, IIRIRA, Americans, illegal, undocumented, enforcement, Trump

Suggested Citation

Hong, Kari E., The Ten Parts of 'Illegal' in 'Illegal Immigration' that I Do Not Understand (March 28, 2017). 50 UC Davis Law Review Online 43 (2017), Boston College Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 444, Available at SSRN:

Kari E. Hong (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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