The word "illegal" looms large in the word cloud made from viewer-submitted questions at the GOP debate.

By Isaac Ross

America’s undocumented immigrants are presently in the midst of a war of words. During a recent political debate, the moderator displayed a word cloud image representing the most common words from viewer-submitted questions for the candidates. When they displayed the word cloud for questions surrounding immigration, the words “illegal” and “alien” dominated the discussion.

At the IIIC there is much talk about the plight of undocumented Irish immigrants, but the term illegal immigrant is noticeably absent. This might just seem like semantics but words have real power. If a driver who exceeded the speed limit was referred to as an illegal driver instead of as a speeder, or a youth caught with alcohol was referred to as an illegal drinker rather than as under-aged, the conversation surrounding these infractions would almost certainly be different.

To refer to someone as an illegal immigrant is not just pejorative, it shapes how society looks at all undocumented immigrants. Immigrants are people, not aliens! Comprehensive immigration reform begins by reclaiming the conversation and by moderating the language and the tone. Documented or undocumented, immigrant, or native born, we must stand together and shape the national conversation about immigration. That begins with a simple choice of words.