A dispute has been brewing in federal courts about what to call people who are in this country unlawfully. In the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Judge Beverly Martin, an Obama appointee, has taken to writing concurring opinions in which says these people should be called “non-citizens” rather than “illegal aliens.” See here, here, and here.
Judge Lisa Branch, a Trump appointee, has pushed back. She notes that the statute at issue in these cases says “alien” and it’s not the job of judges to rewrite statutes.
On Power Line, I use a third term — “illegal immigrant” — because that’s what these people have generally been called in common parlance, I think. However, if I were writing a legal brief or opinion on immigration law, I would refer to them as “illegal aliens,” like the statute does.
Under no circumstances would I call them non-citizens because that’s a less than full description, and therefore a misleading one. An illegal immigrant (or alien) is always a non-citizen, but a non-citizen isn’t always an illegal immigrant.
Where did the practice of mislabeling illegal immigrants began? It may have started with this opinion by Justice Brett Kavanaugh from last year. In footnote 2, he wrote: “This opinion uses the term ‘noncitizen’ as equivalent to the statutory term ‘alien.’ See 8 U. S. C. §1101(a)(3).”
But, as shown above, they are not equivalent terms.
Sen. Grassley called attention to this matter earlier this week. (See link at just before the three hour mark.) I think it’s a significant one because the effort to mislabel illegal aliens is emblematic of the left’s efforts to transform the language in service of its efforts to transform America.
All political actors manipulate the language to some degree. Authoritarians are the worst offenders — a central insight of George Orwell.
As the American left increasingly flirts with authoritarianism, it’s important that we take note of instances in which it misuses the language in service of its objectives. And at a minimum, non-leftists like Brett Kavanaugh shouldn’t try to signal their virtue by playing the left’s linguistic games.