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The undocumented status of Manuel Vasquez, 21, prevents him from pursuing higher education or gaining meaningful employment. Manuel works long hours selling wigs and beauty supplies to help support his parents and siblings in Raleigh, N.C., where he lives in a cramped house. Frustration with state and federal immigration policies drove him to risk his own deportation in a protest organized by the NC DREAM Team, a group of undocumented young adults lobbying for legal status in the U.S. This video illuminates the reality of an “illegal” immigrant’s limited options for the future, and the fight to become an American citizen.

Protest Backstory

On September 6, 2011, the NC Dream Team organized the first act of civil disobedience by undocumented youth in the state of North Carolina. The “coming out” rally, intentionally targeted one year before the 2012 Democratic National Convention, aimed to bring attention to the failure of the Democrats to pass the DREAM Act, organizers said. The undocumented youth were arrested and processed for deportation. The deportation proceedings, however, were dropped as part of a national trend where ICE officials have been resistant to process activists.

“Illegal”: Origins and Significance

Most people do not recognize that the term “illegal immigrant” originated during the Civil Rights era with the passage the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. The bill was the first of its kind to ramp up enforcement efforts along the US-Mexico border and has been cited by journalists and scholars as the origin of the polarized immigration debate that exists today. The term illegal immigrant refers to an immigrant living in the United States without legal permission. However the act of living in the U.S. without government authorization is actually not a criminal offense. For that reason, legal scholars have argued that “illegal immigrant” is not a legally accurate term, and that alternative words such as “undocumented” and “unauthorized” be utilized.

Beyond searching for a legal alternative, mainstream media style guides, including AP Style and The New York Times, routinely have looked to the communities they are referring to for guidance. The African-American community was largely responsible for the evolution of the terms colored to negro to black and African-American. And today, the Latina/o community is largely embracing the term “undocumented.” One major reference was in December of 2009, when Justice Sonia Sotomayor used the term “undocumented,” marking the Court’s first use of the term. However, while the community has rallied around this term, mainstream press style guides have not responded in kind. Most press avoids the “menacing” term “illegal alien.” In 2011, the Associated Press allowed the verbose “living in the country without legal permission” variation of “illegal immigrant.” But the seven word euphemism is not eliminate the use of the term “illegal.”