Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an Obama nominee, used the term “illegal alien” this week in a decision and the internet freaked out. But, did she have a choice?
First, there is no legal definition for “undocumented worker”. It’s too broad. That could mean someone holding a job who doesn’t have the right certifications for the position, a worker with an expired driver’s license or someone with any other failure to provide documentation related to the job. If her union card is expired, she might be an undocumented worker.
So, how does U.S. law codify someone who is in the United States illegally: Unauthorized (aka illegal) alien. 1
Unauthorized is literally “without authorization” – otherwise knows as illegal.
If you enter a property without authorization, you are breaking the law (illegal). If you take something without authorization, you are breaking the law (which is illegal.) Although I could continue ad infinitum, the point is clear.
Justice Sotomayor knows that if she uses the made-up term of “undocumented worker”, she will open her opinion up to abuse by lower courts. It could mean that a worker with an expired driver’s license is now subject to removal from the country. That ambiguity cannot come down from the highest court.
This is a prime example of why language should be precise. But, not everyone thinks so- Thanks media.
1 8 U.S. Code (several chapters)
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