Two weeks ago, the headlines brought to our attention Fox New Contributor, Laura Ingraham’s affront against Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, suggesting the Supreme Court Justice chose her “immigrant family background” over the U.S. Constitution.
The polemic arose from Justice Sotomayor’s talk to a group of Yale Law students, in which she commented on the fact that she was the first Supreme Court Justice to use the term “undocumented immigrants,” saying “[t]o call them illegal aliens seemed and does seem insulting to me.”.
The term “illegal alien” does not condemn an act, but rather the existence of a human being. As Charles Garcia, op-eds writer for CNN, aptly said: “[T]he term illegal alien suggests that individuals, rather than actions, are unlawful.” In fact, such language dehumanizes immigrants and creates animosity towards targeted ethnic groups that further fuels the already controversial issue of immigration in the U.S.
Although Justice Sotomayor may have been the first Justice to openly reject the term “illegal alien,” back in July, 2012, the Supreme Court made a groundbreaking decision regarding the Arizona immigration case when it omitted to use the terms “illegal immigrants” and “illegal aliens.” Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, stated: “As a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States.” Moreover, the Court ruled that is was not a crime to seek or engage in unauthorized employment. In fact, the removal of an unauthorized immigrant is a civil matter that must be determined by federal officials who have wide discretion to decide whether deportation makes sense.
Justice Sotomayor’s position on the term “illegal alien” does not condone undocumented immigration, but rather supports the Court’s recognition of the importance of using a non-judgmental language that establishes a humanistic approach to the current restructuring of U.S. immigration policy. While the Constitution does not in itself tell us what kind of immigration policy is right and just, it certainly does not encourage the use of language that promotes hatred and divisiveness that journalists, such as Ms. Ingraham, continue to use. After all, it may very well be that Justice Sotomayor’s critics are in fact those who fail to demonstrate true allegiance to the U.S. Constitution.