Hillary Clinton Promises to Stop Saying ‘Illegal Immigrant’

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Hillary Clinton Files For The NH Primary And Campaigns In The State
Photo: Scott Eisen/2015 Getty Images

Hillary Clinton has agreed to stop using the term "illegal immigrants." In a Telemundo-hosted Facebook chat with the presidential candidate on Tuesday, Jose Vargas, a prominent immigrant-rights advocate, asked the Democratic candidate to tweak her terminology in a typed question. Activists demanded an apology from her earlier this month after she used the phrase during an appearance in New Hampshire.

Yes, I will,” she promised. “That was a poor choice of words.” Clinton continued, “They have names, and hopes and dreams that deserve to be respected.” 

Vargas, a journalist and maker of the documentaries White People and Documented, is an “undocumented” Filipino immigrant himself, so this distinction is important to him. He is the founder of Define American, a group aiming to “shift the conversation around immigrants” by encouraging journalists, media organizations, and prominent political figures to recognize that the terminology they use casually contains assumptions that can change the tenor of the debate.

Speaking to Yahoo News shortly after his chat with Clinton, Vargas said

To many Americans I talk to, ‘illegal’ has become synonymous with ‘Mexican,’ as if all undocumented people are from Mexico (they are not — I’m from the Philippines), as if all of Latin America is Mexico (it is not), as if there is something wrong with being Mexican. Those words are offensive and hurtful. Words Matter because words and phrases like ‘illegals,’ ‘illegal aliens,’ and ‘illegal immigrants’ frame the conversation, how politicians talk about the issue, and inevitably how policies are created.

The Latino vote is expected to be crucial to the Democrats retaining the presidency.

This fall, Clinton’s campaign rolled out a “Latinos with Hillary” program (with the support of Marc Anthony and Salma Hayek).