The Language of Immigration

We believe that through education we can battle misconceptions and uneducated assumptions. This concept has inspired the creation of a brief primer on the language of immigration. Often when xenophobes complain about “illegals,” they have no idea who, or what concept, they actually fear. Encouraging empathy is easier when you can clearly convey the humanity of a situation. Below are commonly used immigration terms, with links to specific guidelines for each status.

 Undocumented Immigrants

The preferred nomenclature for a person with an unauthorized presence in the United States. The Feminist Texican offers a thoughtful (and well-researched) argument on why not to use the words “alien” or “illegal” as descriptors. As of 2014, there are 11.1 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center.

DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), “certain people who came to the United States as children and meet several key guidelines may request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and would then be eligible for work authorization.” The “action” being deferred is removal or deportation. Guidelines are located here. DACA went into effect in 2012 by way of an executive order.

DREAM Act, or Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act is a proposed law that has been revised, debated, and reviewed (but not passed) by congress for over 15 years. It would have offered a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States, who met certain criteria.

“Unauthorized immigrants who qualify for the deferred action initiative [DACA] are commonly referred to as “DREAMers” because they comprise most (though not all) of the individuals who meet the general requirements of the... (DREAM) Act,” according to the American Immigration Council (AIC). The AIC published a fact sheet with more specific DREAMer demographics on its website.

Prosecutorial DiscretionORS

According to NOLO, “Under U.S. immigration law, prosecutorial discretion (PD) refers to the power that [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] ICE has to discontinue working on a deportation case.” PD can be enforced through DACA.


“Under United States law, a refugee is someone who: is located outside of the United States, is of special humanitarian concern to the United States, demonstrates that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, is not firmly resettled in another country, and is admissible to the United States,” according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services defines asylum status as “a form of protection available to people who: meet the definition of refugee, are already in the United States, and are seeking admission at a port of entry.”

~Karen Turk