James Taranto presides over the Wall Street Journal's "Best of the Web" daily online column, which usually includes some serious commentary by him on top, followed by an assemblage of amusing idiocies (e.g. the regular categories of "Questions Nobody Is Asking" and "Answers to Questions Nobody Is Asking").
One of the serious subjects in Taranto's July 6, 2012 column is the bleating CNN op-ed by Charles Garcia that had already attracted the attention of VDARE's James Fulford. Despite the facts that the WSJ's edit page is ground zero for unreflective, crass, and juvenile open-borders boosterism and that I've never seen him say anything serious about immigration before, Taranto tears into Garcia quite effectively.
This section of Taranto's piece is titled "Doble Discurso " (Spanish for "Double Standard"). He first quotes two paragraphs from Garcia ...
When you label someone an "illegal alien" or "illegal immigrant" or just plain "illegal," you are effectively saying the individual, as opposed to the actions the person has taken, is unlawful. The terms imply the very existence of an unauthorized migrant in America is criminal.
In this country, there is still a presumption of innocence that requires a jury to convict someone of a crime. If you don't pay your taxes, are you an illegal? What if you get a speeding ticket? A murder conviction? No. You're still not an illegal. Even alleged terrorists and child molesters aren't labeled illegals.
... and then trumps him:
That's because it would be redundant to call someone an illegal tax evader, an illegal speeder, an illegal murderer, an illegal terrorist or an illegal child molester. All these actions are illegal by definition. The phrase "illegal alien" is needed to make a distinction with legal aliens: tourists, students, business travelers, resident aliens and so forth.
Garcia seems confused as to the meaning of the word "alien." To describe someone accurately as an alien is to say nothing about his character or actions but his location. When you are in a country of which you are not a citizen or a national, you are an alien.
To be an illegal alien simply means that your presence in the country is contrary to its laws. In America, it may or may not mean you have committed a crime. Unlawful entry into the U.S. is a crime, but unlawful presence after a lawful entry (i.e., overstaying a visa) is but a civil offense.
"Illegal immigrant" is problematic because there is no objective way to classify someone as an "immigrant" who is not a permanent resident or applicant for citizenship. But "illegal alien" is a perfectly accurate way of describing people whose presence in the U.S. is contrary to American law.
Notably, Taranto also gets the legalities correct in his sentence about unlawful entries versus visa overstays.
This dispute about appropriate terminology for non-citizens in our country without our permission has been ongoing for years and isn't at all a tempest in a teapot: The forces of national dissolution clearly mean to make some language off limits as a way of controlling the conversation and, ultimately, the thinking. I wrote in 2007 about the National Association of Hispanic Journalists even frowning on the use of "immigrant"!
I've heard various bleaters over the years insist that "illegal alien" shouldn't be used by reporters—in the context of, say, a raid by Sherriff Arpaio—because the reporters generally aren't privy to all the facts necessary to determine a person's immigration status. Instead, reporters are urged by the bleaters to use "undocumented," as in "undocumented immigrant."
If I had the opportunity to confront such a bleater in person, I would ask, "If you're being a stickler, then how do you know they're 'undocumented'? Are you privy to what's in their pockets?"