The difference between the terms “undocumented” and “illegal” in reference to immigrants is largely semantics with the overlay of political and social perceptions.
Supporters of immigration reform and most immigrant rights groups prefer "undocumented workers," noting that calling such residents "illegal" is "dehumanizing and racialized," NPR reported
"The word illegal carries a series of negative implications. For example, it is often assumed that 'illegal' people have no civil or workplace rights, when in fact, all people have rights regardless of immigration status," noted Workers Defense Project
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Others argue that those who come to the U.S. to live and work, and who do not seek a path to citizenship, are in violation of the law and thus, here illegally.
"There is no legal definition of these terms. For most people they mean the same thing: a person who is a citizen of a country other than the United States, who is present in the US without current legal permission," Santa Rose, California, immigration attorney Lamar Peckham said on legal website Avvo
Peckham added: "'Illegal alien' is an offensive term to some people because it implies that the person is somehow 'illegal,' which can never really be true. They may be in the U.S. illegally, but they are not 'illegal' persons."
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