7 Politicians Who Don't Call Immigrants 'Illegal'

PHOTO: OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 30: People with the group 'Youth United For Justice' hold signs in protest of Arizona's immigration law.
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A couple of high-profile politicians have recently said that they won't stop using the term "illegal" to describe immigrants who are in the country without authorization, even as some activists fight to remove that term from the debate.

On Monday, there was Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who is part of a group working on an immigration reform bill in the Senate.

"Someone who crosses our borders illegally is here illegally," McCain said. "I think there's a big difference between someone who does something that's illegal and someone who's undocumented. I'll continue to call it illegal."

Then on Tuesday we had Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who said she didn't "really get caught up in the vocabulary wars."

"They are immigrants who are here illegally, that's an illegal immigrant," she said. "There are immigrants who are here without documents, that's an undocumented immigrant."

She later added that, in any case, the U.S. needs to bring those immigrants out of the shadows.

Many politicians, including Republican Paul Ryan, use multiple terms to describe unauthorized immigrants including "undocumented" and "illegal immigrant."

Still, other politicians choose not to use the term "illegal immigrant," although it's still not the norm in Washington, according to Mónica Novoa, the former coordinator of the "Drop the I Word" campaign by Colorlines and the Applied Research Center. Novoa is now director of Define American, an organization looking to change the conversation around immigration.

With input from Novoa, here's a list of 7 politicians who don't use "illegal," and where they stand on immigration issues.

PHOTO: Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.)
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Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.)

Gutiérrez is arguably the most high-profile advocate for immigrant rights in the House, so it's no surprise that he stays away from language that describes people as illegal. He's part of a secretive group of Democrats and Republicans in the House drafting an immigration bill, and he's sure to be a vocal player as the debate moves forward.

The Illinois congressman told PBS Newhour that he's been able to work collaboratively with some of his Republicans

"There are a lot of wonderful personal relationships that are being developed across the aisle between people who politically have nothing else in common," Gutiérrez told PBS. "I see it as a civil rights issue, as a human rights issue."

PHOTO: Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)
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Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)

Hirono was just sworn in as a senator this January, but she's already made it clear that she cares about immigration, chairing a hearing on the needs of women immigrants and calling for a focus on family reunification in immigration reform.

"I know first-hand that immigration is a women's issue and a family issue," Hirono said in her opening statement. "It's from my own experience as an immigrant that I believe immigration reform should make the family immigration system stronger, not weaker. And we should not ignore the challenges immigrant women face."

Hirono is an immigrant herself, and moved to Hawaii from Japan with her mother and older brother at age 8.

PHOTO: Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif)
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Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.)

Bass has spoken out in favor of immigration reform and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

She also thinks that family reunification is a necessary part of immigration reform, as she mentioned in a column last week:

"A core principle of immigration reform must be a focus on protecting children of undocumented immigrants, who through no fault of their own can end up being ripped away from a loving home or denied the right to see a parent they primarily rely on to have their basic needs met."

PHOTO: Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)
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Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)

A civil-rights leader who fought against segregation, Lewis has drawn parallels between the African American battle for civil rights and immigrant rights today.

He spoke about immigration in a 2011 interview with The Root:

I would love to see more people, especially young people, get involved in this whole issue of trying to demonize the Latino population. Too many of our brothers and sisters are being racially profiled because of their background, last name or the language they may speak. The state of Georgia is copying the state of Arizona, and I think there will be other states to follow the same path. When you take on the immigrant population, you're taking on all of us.

During the Freedom Rides, we were saying, in effect, you arrest one of us, you're going to arrest all of us. You beat 15 or 20 of us, then you're going to have to beat more than 400 of us. I see parallels between then and now. There must be a real movement to resist this attempt to say that people who come from another land are not one of us.

PHOTO: Rep John Conyers (D-Mich.)
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Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.)

At a February hearing in the House on immigration, Conyers opened the dialogue with a challenge to members of the judiciary committee from both parties:

I hope no one uses the term 'illegal immigrants' here today. Our citizens are... the people in this country are not illegal, they are out of status, they are new Americans that are immigrants, and I think that we can forge a path to citizenship that will be able to pass muster.

PHOTO: Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas)
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Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas)

The congresswoman from Texas, whose district includes inner-city Houston, has been an outspoken supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. She wants a path to citizenship for the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants, but also believes the borders need to be secured. In 2007, she introduced an immigration reform bill in the House.

PHOTO: Hakeem Jeffries
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Hakeem Jeffries

The Brooklyn-based congressman represents a district with a mix of immigrant neighborhoods, but which is mostly African American. Since taking office this year, he's spoken out on immigration, as in this January press release from his office:

The eighth congressional district is one of the most diverse in the nation. It includes many Caribbean-American, South Asian, Latino and Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants," said Jeffries. "As a member of the Judiciary Committee, I will do all I can to make sure that comprehensive immigration reform efforts in this Congress do not leave behind the hardworking immigrant families I represent in Brooklyn and Queens.

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