The University of Maryland has launched a campaign educating students and faculty about how to refer to people and asking them to “think before you speak” to avoid insulting others. One of the lexicon lessons has caused a controversy. The campaign by UMD’s Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy office tells people not to use terms like “illegal alien” but rather “undocumented citizens.”
While “illegal alien” is a term that is used in legal materials and judicial opinions, it has been denounced as insulting. For that reason, many have switched to “undocumented immigrant” which the Maryland posters say is fine. However, it is the other suggested choice of “undocumented citizen” that has struck many as odd since the terms is an oxymoron. A citizen by defined is both legal and documented. It would suggest that people here unlawfully can nonetheless be “citizens”.
The State Department states “U.S. citizenship may be acquired either at birth or through naturalization subsequent to birth.”
The school’s “Inclusive Language Campaign” may be too inclusive from a legal standpoint in grouping undocumented persons into the same category as citizens.
Nicole Mehta, the program director of UMD’s Common Ground Multicultural Dialogue Program, however insisted that “undocumented citizen” was selected carefully and after a survey of students: “The use of ‘undocumented citizen’ (along with other terms such as undocumented individuals, immigrants, etc.) seeks to avoid dehumanization of an entire group of individuals.” I can understand the motivation, it is the foundation for the term that is inexplicable. “Citizen” is a legal term of art. It is a status defined by certain conditions. While it may make some feel more included, it is a fictional status and undermines serious discussion of the status of undocumented people in this country.
What do you think?