Update: What is An "Illegal Student?"

While we are sadly no closer to the answer than yesterday, we have gained the support of more people, who are just as confused as yours truly about the label of “illegal student.”

Late last night, I was referred to a webcast by the clueless reporter of the offending article, who swore that she was just following company policy. It is now up to USA Today to come forward and explain precisely what the publication means by “illegal students.” Of course, the so-called “illegal students” in question are miffed:

I saw the entire webcast and there is no mention of “illegal student”. She mentions that she usually likes to use “someone entered the U.S. illegally” and that she sometimes uses “illegal immigrant,” but there is no mention of “illegal student”.

-Rigo Padilla

How exactly is someone in K-12, attending college and paying tuition “illegal?” I think I am finally figuring out that it is exactly in the same way that some reporters are “illegal.” Illegal journalists, illegal football stars, illegal musicians, illegal computer technicians … Where does the lunacy stop?

Obviously, the editor of the article made up the term out of sheer ignorance. After Emily Bazar insinuated in an email to me that the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) somehow endorsed the idea of using “illegal immigrant” in articles, I went to NCLR to clarify this matter. Within a few hours, Lisa Navarette from NCLR, who had participated in the webcast referred to by Ms. Bazar denied all insinuations and slammed the USA Today coverage:

Any implication that we would agree to or condone the use of “illegal student” is just patently false. We never ever use the word illegal when referring to a human being and never would. It is offensive, pejorative, inaccurate, and grammatically incorrect. “Illegal student” is not only wrong on substance and grammar grounds, it is just plain laziness on the part of people who purport to adhere to journalistic standards […] We would never purport to tell anyone what to call themselves or define their identity for them.

That last bit is critical. How can a group of people create and label disenfranchised populations in dehumanizing terms? This labeling process is based on the same institutionalized racism and homophobia directed against minorities. Niggers, fags, gooks, chinks, flips and so many other labels have been used to subjugate and subordinate people throughout history, denying them claims to citizenship and civic participation. This is not any different. “Illegal” is yet another otherizing and offensive term that we need to eliminate from public discourse as a way of describing people.

And taken a step further, “illegal students” makes no sense. As Erin Rosa notes in the Campus Progress blog today, it is next to impossible to be an “illegal student” in the United States.

You can still take action here to tell USA Today to explain what it means by “illegal students” and cease and desist on the use of the term “illegal” to describe people.

(Photo Credit: USA Today Screen Capture)

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