A Note on Language

This website is part of Undocumented Patients, a Hastings Center research project that explores ethical, legal, and policymaking challenges that arise when undocumented immigrants living in the United States are in need of different types of medical care.

By “undocumented immigrants,” we refer to residents of the U.S. who entered this country without authorization or who are living outside the terms of an entry visa. Medical and related health policy articles frequently use this term to refer to this population. Variations on this term (“unauthorized immigrants,” “undocumented aliens”) are also used in journal articles and may appear in citations. Terms that may apply to some but not all members of the undocumented immigrant population (“out of status,” “person permanently residing under color of law”) will be defined and used in context.

Terms that include the word “illegal” (“illegal immigrant,” “illegal alien,” “illegal”) are used less frequently in the medical literature. These terms tend to be avoided or criticized by human rights advocates, who point that persons themselves are not illegal even if they have broken the law. (Nor is law-breaking, on its own, grounds to deny a person needed medical care.) These terms can be unsatisfactory when applied to children or young adults who were brought to the U.S. by others. Also, many undocumented immigrants are members of “mixed-status” families, and live with children or other family members who are U.S. citizens by birth or are legal residents. For these reasons, these terms appear only if used in cited literature.