A Note on Language

This web­site is part of Undoc­u­ment­ed Patients, a Hast­ings Cen­ter research project that explores eth­i­cal, legal, and pol­i­cy­mak­ing chal­lenges that arise when undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants liv­ing in the Unit­ed States are in need of dif­fer­ent types of med­ical care.

By “undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants,” we refer to res­i­dents of the U.S. who entered this coun­try with­out autho­riza­tion or who are liv­ing out­side the terms of an entry visa. Med­ical and relat­ed health pol­i­cy arti­cles fre­quent­ly use this term to refer to this pop­u­la­tion. Vari­a­tions on this term (“unau­tho­rized immi­grants,” “undoc­u­ment­ed aliens”) are also used in jour­nal arti­cles and may appear in cita­tions. Terms that may apply to some but not all mem­bers of the undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grant pop­u­la­tion (“out of sta­tus,” “per­son per­ma­nent­ly resid­ing under col­or of law”) will be defined and used in con­text.

Terms that include the word “ille­gal” (“ille­gal immi­grant,” “ille­gal alien,” “ille­gal”) are used less fre­quent­ly in the med­ical lit­er­a­ture. The­se terms tend to be avoid­ed or crit­i­cized by human rights advo­cates, who point that per­sons them­selves are not ille­gal even if they have bro­ken the law. (Nor is law-break­ing, on its own, grounds to deny a per­son need­ed med­ical care.) The­se terms can be unsat­is­fac­to­ry when applied to chil­dren or young adults who were brought to the U.S. by oth­ers. Also, many undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants are mem­bers of “mixed-sta­tus” fam­i­lies, and live with chil­dren or oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers who are U.S. cit­i­zens by birth or are legal res­i­dents. For the­se rea­sons, the­se terms appear only if used in cit­ed lit­er­a­ture.