Parsing the 'I-word' lays out the only descriptive options that should be available: one can be an immigrant, or an illegal alien, but can't, by law, be an "illegal immigrant."
By law, every person who is not a U.S. citizen or national is an "alien." Aliens are divided into broad "lawfully admitted" and "illegal alien" categories. Lawfully admitted aliens include immigrants admitted for permanent residence, temporary nonimmigrants, refugees and individuals paroled into the United States by the federal government.
An "immigrant" means "every alien except" nonimmigrant aliens who are eligible for temporary admission. No alien may enter the United States without a valid immigrant visa, or proving to an immigration official that they only seek to enter temporarily for a specific purpose authorized by law, such as study, tourism or journalism.
Aliens in the United States who have not been lawfully admitted or have violated the terms of their admission are, as recognized by the courts, properly classified as illegal aliens. Illegal aliens include "unlawful entrants," "immigration violators," "aliens previously removed," and "aliens unlawfully present."
"Undocumented alien" is less accurate. It only describes a subclass of aliens who do not possess a valid visa and travel document "at the time of application for admission."
By law, no "immigrant" can be "illegal" or "undocumented." The promiscuous use of these contradictory terms by journalists is misleading and lazy.
Some nonimmigrants may transfer from one classification to another. Similarly, certain nonimmigrants can "adjust state" to become an immigrant. It is, however, inaccurate to describe Guandique [TSB Note: the author is referring to Ingmar Guandique (Ingmar? Did his parents conceive him while watching a Swedish movie?) the illegal alien from San Salvador who was recently charged with the high-profile murder of Chandra Levy in Washington DC several years ago] as "eligible" for temporary protected status, if approval of an application for that status was "denied."
Immigration Reform Law Institute