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objection to use of "illegal" as a nounEdit

Use of the word "illegal" as a noun is offensive, and has a racial history. First, actions are illegal, not people. Using the adjective "illegal" to describe people is to reduce their status from human to something less. The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials got it right. The phrase is dehumanizing.

Second, why is it illegal for some immigrants to enter our country, but not others? A century ago, when European immigrants did not have the papers required for citizenship, Congress created the "registry date" to give them a means to become citizens. Before 1964, the typical immigrant from Latin America could receive lawful permanent residence in this country just by applying. Between the 1960's and 1990's, U.S. immigration laws became increasingly restrictionist. Coincidentally, the color of immigration changed from being predominantly European, to including more immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa. As the Civil Rights Act gave legal protections to the descendants of slaves, we started building a new class of people with darker skin and reduced legal rights.

Third, the term "illegal" is inaccurate. Although a person might enter this county without a visa, he or she might still have a legal right to remain. Refugees seeking asylum from war or persecution are protected from forced return by U.S. and international law. They might also have grounds to adjust their status to be reunited with relatives who are citizens or lawful residents. For the public debate about immigration policy, the phrase "undocumented immigrant" is more accurate and avoids the racial taint.

The phrase is particularly ironic when it refers to many of our local (in Ohio, USA) immigrants from Central America. Guatemalans, Hondurans and Mexicans who speak native Mayan or Aztec languages had ancestors who crossed this land long before Columbus arrived. When they enter the U.S. seeking safety or economic security, they are retracing the ancient steps of those ancestors. Did the Europeans immigrants ever ask those Native American ancestors for permission to enter their land? How ungracious of us to set our laws to make them the "illegals."

Would we have called Rosa Parks an "illegal bus rider?" She was. The shame, however, belongs to the law, not to the people described as "illegal." Those who use this offensive term make clear their desire to exclude.

I particularly object to the use of racially offensive terms as synonyms. The Official Scrabble Dictionary excludes racially offensive terms. Shouldn't Wiktionary too?

Rrenner 14:23, 11 December 2006 (UTC)

WMF projects are not censored; Wiktionary in particular describes how words are used. I'm afraid that there are far too many viable sources out there that user the term in this way. People learning English (one subset of our readers) desperately need to know when they are accidentally using a term with very strong negative connotations and/or when they are being insulted! Accurately describing (BRIEFLY) the manner in which the term is offensive is quite welcome. Listing the synonyms of course is also needed. But I'm afraid if you were to request verification of the noun use, the entry would have numerous unhelpful examples of this use added (which I'm pretty sure would offend your sensitivity to a much greater degree.) --Connel MacKenzie 16:48, 12 December 2006 (UTC)

Deletion discussionEdit

The following information passed a request for deletion.

This discussion is no longer live and is left here as an archive. Please do not modify this conversation, but feel free to discuss its conclusions.



  1. (of an immigrant) Being an illegal immigrant; residing in a country illegally.

This is a specific instance of a sense I just added:

  1. being something illegally

You can be an illegal immigrant, illegal logger, illegal pilot, illegal lawyer, illegal Jew, etc. — Ungoliant (Falai) 01:10, 22 July 2013 (UTC)

I'd say that this usage is paired with any kind of agent or profession noun, so I agree. But an illegal Jew? What's that? —CodeCat 01:12, 22 July 2013 (UTC)
A Jew in a place where it is illegal to be one (i.e. Nazi Germany.) — Ungoliant (Falai) 01:20, 22 July 2013 (UTC)
I'd have to say that in the US, in everyday conversation, "X is illegal" means "X is an illegal immigrant" and nothing else. "Her uncle was illegal and had to go back." is a fairly typical kind of statement. Ergo: Keep DCDuring TALK 01:37, 22 July 2013 (UTC)
What about these:
  • [1] (If you want to say homosexuals are not illegal but just plain hideous, why don’t you so state?)
  • [2] (They said a Baha’i child is not a legal child. He is illegal.)
  • [3] (He’s not the sense the laws allow; / In short, in wit he is illegal)
  • [4] (But if blat is not able to solve the problem, then perhaps the manager’s tolkach can. Here is the indispensable man in the Soviet economy, though technically he is illegal...)
  • [5] (The modern stock salesman like the old buccaneer, is consciously fraudulent. He is illegal to begin with.)
  • [6] (God is not dead in Russia, but He is illegal)
  • [7] (For example, a fisherman licensed in Illinois, but fishing the Missouri side may not have the least suspicion that he is illegal when he lands that 16th white bass)
  • [8] (When a flight attendant bids illegally, going from one month to-another, s/ he may not fly the trip for which s/ he is illegal.)
? — Ungoliant (Falai) 02:17, 22 July 2013 (UTC)
All I'm saying is that with no particular context in the US, for the last few decades, "Person is illegal" means "Person is an illegal immigrant". To me that is the very essence of meaning. If it doesn't fit our standards, so much the worse for our standards. The examples don't make me doubt my intuition. Cite 3 is a dated poem. Cites 2, 4, and 6 refer to other countries. Cites 7 and 8 introduce a specific context of legality when talking about fishing licenses and labor rules. Cite 5 seems quite dated (1925). Cite 1 seems quite rhetorical. DCDuring TALK 03:42, 22 July 2013 (UTC)
As I see it, that’s because illegal immigration is by far a much more common topic than illegal logging or whatever. I don’t see what’s the problem of referring to another country, they’re using that sense and not referring to immigration. I’ll try to find other cites. — Ungoliant (Falai) 04:10, 22 July 2013 (UTC)
On second thought, it might be better to keep this. Do you oppose the addition of “United States, specifically” to the context label? — Ungoliant (Falai) 04:15, 22 July 2013 (UTC)
Yes, I think it could be best to keep the immigration sense as a separate subsense of the general "being (something) illegally" sense. For one thing, calling an immigrant illegal is {{context|offensive|lang=en}} or at least {{context|sometimes|_|offensive|lang=en}}, because, in the words of Elie Wiesel, "no human being is illegal". Saying that a fisherman is illegal after he lands his 16th bass is not as often offensive, though philosophically it should be just as offensive. - -sche (discuss) 04:23, 22 July 2013 (UTC)
Interestingly, saying a person is legal is also quite common, but usually has to do with their age, not their immigration status. —Angr 12:04, 22 July 2013 (UTC)
"being something illegally" isn't a pretty poor definition because it uses the adverb illegally, which leads straight back to illegal, so it's a circular definition. Mglovesfun (talk) 09:06, 22 July 2013 (UTC)
It doesn’t. — Ungoliant (Falai) 09:11, 22 July 2013 (UTC)
@Ungoliant: I would expect that it would be, at least, "chiefly US" though I wouldn't be too surprised if it were used similarly elsewhere, eg, Canada, Australia. We could start with "US" and see if anyone expands the coverage.
@-sche: I don't think this quite rises to offensiveness, because the scope of the "illegality" is limited in most people's minds to a controversial law whose justice and administration is under challenge. I can't imagine someone using illegal as an insult. Contrast this with wetback, a truly offensive term combining implication of poverty (and personal hygiene and grooming?) as well as noncompliance with law. Is speeder or drunk driver offensive? DCDuring TALK 19:18, 22 July 2013 (UTC)
I changed the entry now. I added chiefly US and changed offensive to sometimes offensive (it’s not always offensive, as the usage notes explain.) The label had become too long (longer than the definition,) so I removed the of an immigrant bit, which is clear from the definition, and instead of adding specifically I made it a subsense of the previous def.. Feel free to change if you disagree.
While we’re at it, isn’t the noun definition chiefly US too? I always see the British use asylum seeker when they talk angrily about immigrants. — Ungoliant (Falai) 19:54, 22 July 2013 (UTC)
Seems likely, a good change. DCDuring TALK 00:04, 23 July 2013 (UTC)
Kept. — Ungoliant (Falai) 17:30, 16 August 2013 (UTC)

English words prefixed with il-Edit

Shouldn't this word be listed under the category English words prefixed with il- ? I was going to add the category tag, but it seem wiktionary uses templates to add categories. And I don't want to break anything by adding the wrong template. Suggestions? --TenguTech(Talk) 11:30, 9 September 2014 (UTC)

No you can add it manually. The reason it isn't there already is because it was borrowed into English with the il- already attached (French illégal). Renard Migrant (talk) 11:33, 9 September 2014 (UTC)
Return to "illegal" page.