HuffPo Latino Voices–Vistas: “Illegal” or ‘Undocumented?”

Latino $1 trillion dollar buying power.

U.S. Census confirms Hispanics are the #1 minority–and growing.

These are just some of the facts I call “Happy Talk” as I blog in the post “Our America.” Corporations are scrambling to secure a chunk of the Latino action as I witnessed in the packed expo halls at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) and National Council of La Raza (NCLR) annual conventions. Type in “Latino” or “Hispanic” in Google and you will be overwhelmed with infinite pages of articles, websites, videos, and blogs with information on this community. Media juggernauts are launching websites and channels devoted to this segment of our population, including Fox News Latino, the forthcoming NBC News Hispanic site and Univisión web portal geared toward English-dominant Latinos.

If a Martian landed on Earth and read up to this point, she would think, ¡Wow! Given all this information, being Latina must be Número Uno!



The Hispanic community’s horizon of possibilities is weighed down by the gravitational pull of significant liabilities. These include: abysmally low educational attainment, eroding political and social power, anemic civic engagement, as well as alarming health disparities in comparison to the mainstream population.

HuffPo Latino Voices Vistas

Courtesy HuffPo Latino Voices Vistas/LongIslandwins

Not enough people at the highest, decision-making level are engaging these problems–and declaring a cry to action local groups struggling in our communities issued long ago. This means exposing the good, the bad, and the ugly. It entails having the courage to set aside differences to walk with the discipline of pre-Tea party Republicans toward a larger good with the understanding that a rising Hispanic community equals an ascendant America.

I chose to regularly contribute to Huffington Post Latino Voices because of its provocative dialogue that challenges stifling orthodoxy–whether it’s outdated, out-of-focus national immigration policy or community perceptions about gender roles and mentoring peers. With few exceptions, this debate is non-existent in the mainstream–a gaping omission since this is where the game of power is played.

Click here to read/view the thought-provoking snapshots of the new Vistas multi-media feature, including my contribution to “‘Illegal’ or ‘Undocumented’?” which follows:

Welcome to the first installment of Vistas, a regular feature of HuffPost LatinoVoices whereby we will ask prominent Latino thinkers and doers for their perspective on a theme, issue or event which is often cause for a significant discussion within our community and beyond.

Recognizing that Latinos are not a homogeneous group, and yet share a broad range of experiences and legacies, Vistas simply aims to help illustrate different points of view, which in aggregate can present a truer reflection of what the larger community feels and thinks.

This week’s theme is:

It seems that people who advocate for immigration reform actively reject usage of the word “illegal” when referring to undocumented immigrants, and those who have the opposite perspective, choose to actively use the term “illegal” to represent the these same immigrants.

On the one hand, the legal term “illegal alien” describes foreign nationals who have entered the U.S. without legal permission, or having entered legally, have since lost that status. In this context, “illegal'” refers to the status of the foreign national. On the other hand, U.S. law distinguishes between entering the country illegally (a criminal act) and overstaying a visa for legal entry (a civil offense).

HuffPo Latino Voices Vistas

Courtesy: HuffPo Latino Voices Vistas/C.G.P Grey

As Hispanics, we are hyper-aware of the immigration debate and fall on all sides of the issue, but do we all feel the same about the use of the term “illegal”?

In the slideshow we present the responses received and invite you share your punto de vista and comments below.

“I purposely use illegal immigrant to put U.S. law under scrutiny”

- Viviana Hurtado, The Wise Latina Club

“I use illegal immigrant (as first reference, then interchanging with undocumented immigrant) not because I am hardened to the plight of divided families, shun people who know no other home than the U.S., or because I respect the AP style guide’s preference. Instead, I purposely use illegal immigrant to put U.S. law under scrutiny. Euphemisms soften realities. Nothing is warm and fuzzy about being invisible, not counting, living in a perpetual state of criminality. We must name and claim this term with the express intent of changing the law through sensible immigration reform. The time has come to make these “Americans” who now contribute to our country with their taxes and work ethic–official.”

Do you use “illegal” or “undocumented” and why?


  1. says

    I think the main problem is to call them “illegal” or “undocumented” I believe they are people with no document or people with no legal status, they are people first, and that’s what everybody forget, they have feelings, they have families and they don’t have a choice. It would be easy to deport everyone with not documents or legal status, but they keep them because they need them, but at the same time, they don’t want to provide them a legal status and let them be people first.

  2. says

    illegal… my cousins legally came to this country in 1998 but weren’t documented until months later while paperwork got in order. A touchy subject either way…

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