The term “illegality” is often used uncritically and in facile fashion in public discourses of immigration to refer to the condition in which several million undocumented immigrants live today. As the political debate and public discourse shows, language matters a great deal. People often think that they know exactly to what immigrants this term refers, as the term itself has become closely linked to the lives of Latina/o immigrants. Indeed, given the focus of the enforcement side of the immigration regime today, this term has become almost synonymous with Latina/o immigrants. And popular usage of the term “illegality” connotes association with criminality, with violation of the legal order, and, as such, it is often used to undermine the moral character of certain immigrant groups, as Peter Nyers (2010) notes. Thus, the popular use of this term does not simply reflect its technical legal meaning (Menjívar and Kanstroom 2014), and politicized debates frequently ignore the historical permeability of the line between “legality” and “illegality,” as well as obfuscating the distinction between illegality and crime. In immigration matters, unauthorized or undocumented presence is a civil offense and not a crime, but entering the country without documentation has recently been redefined as a...

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