The Corner

Law & the Courts

When a ‘Common Misconception’ Is True

The other day I was editing an item about New York City’s new guideline that the use of the term “‘illegal alien’ . . . with intent to demean, humiliate, or harass” is illegal. I was under the impression that the term is used in federal law.

Googling it later, I found a recent Chicago Tribune article that says my impression was wrong. Reports Cindy Dampier:

Claire Thomas, a professor in immigration law and director of the Asylum Clinic at New York Law School, . . . points out another common misconception: That the term is used in statutes and in legal circles. “The term illegal alien isn’t a term that comes up in our laws,” she says, noting that it does appear very rarely in pieces of federal legislation. “However, the term ‘alien’ is in our statutes, and you will hear people referred to as ‘the alien,’ when you are representing them.”

This is a little odd on its face. How can it be a “misconception” that the term is used in statutes, and how can it be true that it “isn’t a term that comes up in our laws,” when it “does appear,” albeit rarely, “in pieces of federal legislation”? Is the idea that it appears in legislation that has not passed, but does not appear in the U.S. Code? If so, the idea is wrong. The term appears several times in the code, as this blogpost notes. See, for example, 8 USC 1365, helpfully titled, “Reimbursement of States for costs of incarcerating illegal aliens and certain Cuban nationals.”

Update: A reader notifies me that the Tribune has changed the text so that the “common misconception” is now that the term is “frequently” used in statutes and legal circles. The quote claiming that “illegal alien isn’t a term that comes up in our laws” is still there.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
National Review


Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More
White House

More Evidence the Guardrails Are Gone

At the end of last month, just as the news of the Ukraine scandal started dominating the news cycle, I argued that we're seeing evidence that the guardrails that staff had placed around Donald Trump's worst instincts were in the process of breaking down. When Trump's staff was at its best, it was possible to draw ... Read More

Feminists Have Turned on Pornography

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the feminist movement has sought to condemn traditional sexual ethics as repressive, misogynistic, and intolerant. As the 2010s come to a close, it might be fair to say that mainstream culture has reached the logical endpoint of this philosophy. Whereas older Americans ... Read More
White House

The Impeachment Defense That Doesn’t Work

If we’ve learned anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s that the “perfect phone call” defense of Trump and Ukraine doesn’t work. As Andy and I discussed on his podcast this week, the “perfect” defense allows the Democrats to score easy points by establishing that people in the administration ... Read More