Illegal vs. Undocumented

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Difference between Illegal and Undocumented

The United States has always had issues regarding illegal immigrants ever since it first established its borders. Even today, the illegal immigrant issue is one that border states have had to contend with constantly, and there is the further issue of political correctness when using the associated terms. While the term "illegal immigrant" has been in widespread use for a number of years now, more and more sectors of society are of the opinion that “undocumented” may be a more appropriate choice of words. Let's take a closer look at the issue.


Basic Definition

The term "illegal" is commonly used to refer to foreigners who do not have any allegiance to a certain country and is staying in violation of immigration laws. Illegals are therefore classified as criminals under U.S. law. An undocumented immigrant on the other hand, is someone who doesn't have sufficient proof of legibility to stay in the country. While some may argue that not all undocumented people are illegal immigrants, the fact that the person in question is undocumented already places him or her under suspicion, since a person will have to pass through the standard customs and immigration procedures–and therefore be “documented”–in order to be able to stay in the country legally. The term "undocumented immigrant" is also commonly used by people who believe in the concept of "open borders", which basically amount to allowing foreigners or enter and live in the United States for whatever purpose. As you can imagine, this idea isn't very popular among the more conservative factions in the country.

Usage Of The Term

While illegal immigrants is a term that has passed into common usage, many people are of the opinion that alternative terms such as “undocumented” or “unauthorized” immigrants are more appropriate, and avoid the criminal connotation of the term "illegal". Nevertheless, there are some people who feel that the term illegal immigrants is indeed an apt description and that everyone will have to pass through the guidelines mandated by U.S. immigration law in order to be considered a legal resident and/or citizen.

Impact On Business And Employment

Illegal immigrants whether documented or otherwise may pose a threat to jobs that would otherwise be available to legal United States citizens. Much of the thrust of anti-illegal immigrants measures actually target these people. Of course there is there issue of whether or not the jobs would be accepted by United States citizens anyway, but numerous sectors have nevertheless raised a clamor for tighter anti-illegal immigrant’s laws.



  • Has come into widespread use in the wake of increased illegal immigration to the United States
  • Covers any and all undocumented illegal immigrants
  • Implies a person who has violated immigration laws
  • Seen as a discriminatory term by some sectors of society


  • Does not necessarily connote illegal status
  • Is a bit of an oxymoron, since "immigrant" implies having passed through a legal, documented process
  • More acceptable to proponents of political correctness

Who is bad for our country?
  • Illegal
  • Undocumented

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