Talked to an editor friend about Jose Antonio Vargas, an award winning Filipino American reporter who revealed his life as an undocumented person recently in a New York Times Magazine article.
The editor pal said he’s not “undocumented.” He just had fake documents.
But I pointed out since the documents were fake they are non-documents, hence Vargas is still technically “undocumented.”
To which the editor-friend replied, that to the people Vargas presented the fake documents it appeared he had documents, which actually would make Vargas a “falsely documented person.”
OK. But still basically undocumented.
The reason we have debates like this is that people tend to call the undocumented “illegals.”
Illegal is used as a noun, which is not proper and offensive when applied to people who should be presumed innocent.
“Illegal” can be used appropriately, as an adjective or adverb. You can be a person who enters illegally. But you can’t be an illegal.
Sure, the shortcut is lost on texters and butchers of the language, but once explained you can see why “undocumented” is the preferred term for people who entered this country outside the law, or illegally.
But they aren’t “illegals.” Those are sick birds.
They may be illegal entrants, but as people they are undocumented.
My editor pal objected still and said undocumented is like a sanitized euphemism. Like calling a janitor a “sanitary engineer.”
But I tell him insisting on “undocumented” doesn’t sanitize or euphemize, it humanizes. It’s an appropriate balance to calling them “illegals” which only vilifies and criminalizes unfairly.
For my take on Vargas, the new face of the undocumented, check out my blog at: