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The Justice Department began calling illegal immigrants "illegal aliens," breaking from the Obama-era language of "undocumented," "unauthorized," or "migrants."

The change came last month in a press release announcing Attorney General Jeff Sessions' meeting with the families of victims of crimes by illegal immigrants. This week an official statement heralding tougher rules for sanctuary cities also used the term.

"So-called 'sanctuary' policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes," the document read.

Some were outraged at the language switch, noting that "word choice is important," as Chicago Tribune writer Todd Slowik wrote.

"The phrase “illegal alien” plays into assumptions that immigrants living in this country without proper documentation are criminals," Slowik wrote.


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Michael H. LeRoy, professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, also had a beef with the change.

“He [Attorney General Jeff Sessions] wants to create the impression that all aliens who are in the U.S. without permission are criminals,” Leroy said.

“The i-word is legally inaccurate, politically loaded, dehumanizing to the people it describes and likely unintentionally fuels racial profiling and violence directed toward immigrants,” said immigration advocate Xakota Espinoza of the Center for Racial Justice Innovation.

However, officially the term "illegal" refers to whether the individual has permission to reside in the U.S., not whether they have committed a crime.

The Internal Revenue Service defines "illegal alien" as "an individual who is not a U.S. citizen or U.S. national," making it the most accurate term to use for an immigrant in the U.S. without permission. 

President Trump has vowed to crack down on illegal border crossings and those who harbor criminal illegals. Most recently, Trump spoke in Long Island promising to destroy MS-13, the brutally violent gang of illegal immigrants from El Salvador, which is wreaking havoc in New York especially.


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