The Word “Illegal” and Hidden Meanings

This year’s One Book text is José Angel N.’s book Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant. When we first reviewed this book, we discuss the use of the word “Illegal.” Most people use the term “undocumented” which is less biased and accusational. Most advocates for undocumented immigrants point out factors that there are no legal methods for poor to immigrate in the US and that there are human-rights-related issues that make the discussion more complex than legal vs illegal.

Our One Book author José Angel N. uses this term on purpose to draw attention and make a point. When we selected this book, we had concern that by using the title, Illegal, on our website and marketing materials, our library would appear to be making accusations or taking a side within the debate. In the end, we decided that this book was too important, too well-written, and too powerful for us to ignore because of concerns over the work “illegal.”

If you are interested in a broader perspective on the use of the word “illegal,” take a look at this article from the New York Times magazine The Unwelcome Return of ‘Illegals’. This article puts the term in context with the presidential primaries that are taking place now.

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