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Immigration to the United States of America - Glossary

Par Anne-Kathrin Marquardt : Professeur en CPGE - CPGE Nanterre
Publié par Marion Coste le 04/05/2017

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This glossary comes with the paper “Immigration to the United States of America: current challenges and debates”, which was written in April 2017. An asterisk (*) refers to an entry in the glossary.

Please note: this glossary comes with the paper “Immigration to the United States of America: current challenges and debates”, which was written in April 2017. An asterisk (*) refers to another entry in the glossary.


287(g). Created in 1996, this program enables *ICE to delegate some of its authority to local law enforcement. Selected and trained local policemen may thus identify, arrest and detain illegal immigrants they encounter in the context of their day-to-day policing duties. The city of Las Vegas, for instance, participates in this program (ICE 2017). See also *sanctuary city.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Founded in 1920, this organization describes itself as “non-profit and non-partisan”, specifying that they “do not receive any government funding.” Their stated aim is to defend the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, including (according to their own website) freedom of religion, abortion, free speech or right to privacy. They do so primarily through court litigation, and were involved in such major Supreme Court cases as Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and Roe v. Wade (1973). Since the beginning of the Trump Presidency in January 2017, they have been involved in several court cases defending immigrants, for instance those detained at airports under the so-called “Muslim ban”. This has also led to an unprecedented surge in donations for the organization, which claims more than 1.2 million members. (ACLU 2017, Washington Post 03-12-2017).

Amnesty. The word is sometimes used derogatorily by critics who believe that granting undocumented immigrants a *path to citizenship is the wrong approach to immigration reform.

Anchor baby. A derogatory word (which some consider offensive) to describe a situation where an undocumented immigrant gives birth to a child on US soil. Because of the *Fourteenth Amendment, that child is automatically an American citizen. Some believe that illegal immigrants do this on purpose to be able to claim that they have a close relative who is a citizen, in the hope of being allowed to stay in the United States (Washington Post 08-20-2015).

Birthright citizenship. See *Fourteenth Amendment.

Border Patrol. See *Customs and Border Protection.

Catch and release. Since space in detention centers is limited, low priority arrestees are often freed pending trial. President Trump (2017-) has vowed to end this policy.

Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This federal agency under the *DHS deals with applications for visas, grants asylum or refugee status, organizes naturalizations.

Coming out of the shadows. With the implementation of *DACA, eligible undocumented immigrants were encouraged by the government to “come out of the shadows”, report to the authorities and be granted deportation relief. Many of those who came out of the shadows after President Obama created the policy in 2012 are now afraid, following President Trump’s election in 2017, that the new administration will overturn the policy and deport them. Although the Trump administration has said that anyone who is in the United States illegally may be a target for deportation, the *DACA policy has not (yet) been officially repealed (CNN 02-21-2017, New York Times 02-21-2017).

Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This federal agency under the *DHS operates at or near US borders with other countries. It regulates trade at the border, collecting import duties and ensuring the protection of the United States, for instance against diseases or trafficking. It also apprehends people trying to cross the border illegally. Its best-known component is the *Border Patrol (USBP), whose agents watch and control international borders.

Day without immigrants. An annual event in which immigrants are encouraged not to work, spend money or participate in the US economy in any way. This is meant to underscore the importance of immigrants’ contributions to society (CNN 02-17-2017).

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Created in 2012 by the Obama administration (2009-2017) through various memoranda within the *DHS, this program targets *DREAMers: undocumented migrants who were brought to the United States as children and meet certain conditions may have their deportation deferred (USCIS 12-22-2016). In other words, they are granted temporary relief and may apply for a work permit. DACA thus encourages *DREAMers to *come out of the shadows and cooperate with authorities. However, it does not give them legal status or a *path to citizenship. Roughly half a million young undocumented immigrants benefited from this program as of 2014, 77% of whom are Mexicans (Pew 08-15-2014). Of course, the program was not without its controversies, as critics blamed it for causing the 2014 border crisis, when a higher than usual number of immigrants, especially unaccompanied children, tried to cross into the United States (Los Angeles Times 06-19-2014). Many of those who *came out of the shadows are afraid, after President Trump’s election in 2017, that the new administration will overturn the policy and deport them. Although the Trump administration has said that anyone who is in the United States illegally may be a target for deportation, the DACA policy has not (yet) been officially repealed (CNN 02-21-2017, New York Times 02-21-2017).

Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). This program had been planned by the Obama administration (2009-2017) in 2014, but was never implemented because of an injunction granted by a federal court. The injunction was left in place by the Supreme Court which, being one judge short after the death of Justice Scalia, split evenly in Texas v. United States, in June 2016. The policy targeted parents who are themselves undocumented immigrants, but whose children are US citizens or *permanent residents. These parents would have their deportation deferred and be eligible for work permits. However, this would not mean legal status or a *path to citizenship (USCIS 04-15-2015). An estimated 3.5 million illegal immigrants were considered eligible for this program (Pew 01-19-2016).

Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Created in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this ministry within the American government overseas federal agencies in charge of immigration: *USCIS, *ICE and *CBP. In other words, it grants visas, organizes naturalization, enforces immigration law and customs regulations, fights human and drug trafficking, ensures border security…

Deportation. The removal of an immigrant from US soil (reconduction à la frontière).

DREAMer. This word is based on the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), which was first introduced in 2001 and then several more times during the Obama presidency (2009-2017), but always failed to pass in Congress. DREAMers are the persons targeted by this proposed law: undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, are well-educated and of good moral character. The bill would have offered them a *path to citizenship, the rationale being that these educated migrants, who have often known nothing other than life in America and are thus well integrated, would be able to contribute to the economy. Some DREAMers have been granted deportation relief under *DACA, but, given that the law itself repeatedly failed to pass, they have organized and founded advocacy groups such as United We Dream, which claims over 100,000 members (United We Dream 2017, NBC News 03-30-2017).

Ellis Island. It was on this island in New York harbor that America’s largest immigration station was located. Between 1892 and 1954, more than 12 million immigrants were processed there. For some, it was symbol of hope; for others, the place where they or their relatives were denied entry into the United States. Today, it is a museum managed by the National Park Service (2017a, 2017b).

Employer verification. This policy was created in 1986 with the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). It means that the burden is on businesses to check whether or not the people they hire are in the country legally. If they do not comply, businesses may face sanctions and penalties such as fines. Employers currently have to fill out a federal I-9 form, but enforcement may become more effective with the creation of E-Verify, an online platform that makes checks more thorough (Huffington Post 09-09-2016). In the budget President Trump announced on March 16, 2017, a sum is set aside to make E-Verify mandatory nationwide.

Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution reads in part “all persons born or naturalized in the United States […] are citizens of the United States.” It was passed in 1868 as one of the Reconstruction Amendments after the Civil War (1861-1865). It was partly a reaction to the landmark Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), in which the justices had ruled that blacks were not US citizens, that they did not enjoy the rights granted to citizens by the Constitution, and that therefore slavery was legal. Today, the existence of this amendment means in practice that any baby born on US soil will be an American citizen, even if he or she is born to parents who are in the United States illegally – something known as “birthright citizenship”. This has led to the accusation that some unauthorized immigrants have babies in the United States on purpose, to use them as so-called *anchor babies. However, it seems highly unlikely that the Fourteenth Amendment will be changed, first because of its symbolic charge as a Reconstruction Amendment, second because it is difficult to change the Constitution generally.

Gang of Eight. This is the nickname given to the bipartisan group of eight Senators who sponsored the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. The bill was passed by the Senate, but never given a vote in the House, and thus never became law. To date, it is the last major attempt at immigration reform in Congress.

Green card. A green card holder is a person who enjoys permanent resident status, which means that they may live and work in the United States indefinitely without being a citizen. Most people obtain green cards because a family member already lives in America, because of a job offer, or based on refugee status. There are also a few programs targeting very specific persons, such as Iraqi translators who worked for the US armed forces. Moreover, there is also a “green card lottery” designed to grant entry to people from countries that send few immigrants into the United States. Depending on the category, there may be annual quotas limiting the number of people admitted each year, and therefore long waiting times for applicants (DHS 08-08-2016).

Hyphenated American. The term emerged during the immigration wave of the turn of the twentieth century to refer to Americans with foreign roots: Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, etc. It had derogatory connotations from the start, suggesting that such an individual might not be truly loyal to the United States. Former President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) famously declared in 1915 that “a hyphenated American is not an American at all” (New York Times 10-13-1915); the term carries negative connotations to this day (Huffington Post 08-26-2015).
Identity politics. For a political party or operative to single out a minority group (e.g. on the basis of sexual orientation or race) and target political proposals specifically at them. While this may help bring issues affecting minorities to the fore, the term has also been used derogatorily, especially in criticism of the Democratic party, which is sometimes accused of building its voting coalition on this strategy (New York Times 11-18-2016). An approximate French translation might be communautarisme.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This federal agency under the *DHS operates on the entire US territory. It is in charge both of criminal investigation and law enforcement on matters such as human trafficking, international drug gangs, intellectual property infringement or illegal immigration. One of its components is Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), whose Deportation Officers identify, arrest and deport illegal immigrants.

Maquiladora. Factory located in Mexico, near the border with the United States, where cheap labor produces goods destined for the American market (Le Monde 01-24-2017, Washington Post 02-21-2017). These factories flourished after the ratification of *NAFTA.

Melting pot. The United States is sometimes described as a melting pot, or crucible, where different cultures and ethnicities melt together into one American identity. But behind it lies the idea that immigrants from different cultural backgrounds should assimilate and adopt American identity (Newsweek 12-26-2015). This concept is often opposed to the *salad bowl.

Mixed status. A mixed status family has members who are in the United States legally and others who are there illegally. It is difficult to find hard numbers, since both the estimates of illegal entries and the definition of “family” may vary. But to give a specific example: in 2014, 3.2 million children who were US citizens themselves had at least one parent who was an illegal immigrant (Pew 11-17-2016). This has political implications. Although unauthorized immigrants cannot vote, they may have relatives who are able to vote and push for changes in immigration policy.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This trade bloc encompasses Mexico, the United States and Canada. An enduring criticism against the agreement is that it allegedly destroyed American manufacturing jobs, which were outsourced to *maquiladoras in Mexico (Le Monde 01-24-2017, Washington Post 02-21-2017). It may thus have contributed to the negative image of Latin-American immigrants in the United States. Although initially signed by President George H. W. Bush (1989-1993), ratification happened under President Bill Clinton (1993-2001). As a result, many Americans associate NAFTA with the Clinton presidency, which may have put Hillary Clinton at a disadvantage during the 2016 presidential campaign, especially in the context of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations (CNN 09-27-2016). While candidate Trump had promised to scrap *NAFTA, President Trump seems willing to renegotiate the agreement (New York Times 04-27-2017). In French, NAFTA is known as accord de libre-échange nord-américain (ALENA).

Path to citizenship. Some of the attempts at immigration reform started in Congress in recent decades provided for a process that would enable undocumented immigrants to obtain US citizenship. Usually illegals would first be granted some form of temporary status on condition of meeting certain requirements, then *permanent residency and eventually, after many years, the possibility of applying for citizenship. But for critics, who believe that being in the country illegally already constitutes a crime, this means *amnesty.

Permanent resident status. See *green card.

Racial profiling. For law enforcement to suspect that someone has committed a crime based only on their race. An approximate French translation might be délit de faciès.

Salad bowl. The United States is sometimes compared to a salad bowl, where different cultures and ethnicities co-exist, but live parallel lives and never actually melt into a single American identity. It is thus close to the concept of multiculturalism, and often opposed to the idea of the *melting pot (Newsweek 12-26-2015).

Sanctuary city. There is no single definition of this term, but it often implies that local law enforcement does not cooperate with *ICE, for instance refusing to honor *ICE requests to detain individuals. Often, this may also mean that they do not seek to find out whether or not a person is an undocumented immigrant or not. The rationale behind such policies is that it will make cities safer by ensuring that illegals are not afraid of calling the police when they are victims of crime. Several hundred cities across the United States have such policies in place; one example is Chicago, Illinois (CNN 01-25-2017). Such policies may also exist at county or even state level. A bill named SB-54 is currently moving through the California legislature that would make it a sanctuary state (Los Angeles Times 12-07-2016, 03-16-2017). On January 25, 2017, President Trump signed executive order 13768 targeting sanctuary cities by withdrawing some of their federal funding. Mayors of several cities have vowed to continue their policies despite these threats, while the executive order has been attacked in court (Bloomberg 01-26-2017). See also *287(g).

SB-1070. This Arizona law is officially known as the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act and was passed by the Arizona legislature in 2010. As one of the strictest state laws on immigration anywhere in America, it requires state police to check someone’s status if they have reason to believe that person may be an illegal immigrant. Critics argued that this would lead to *racial profiling, but the Supreme Court upheld that part of the law in its 2012 decision Arizona v. United States (New York Times 04-23-2010, 06-25-2012).
Wetback. A highly offensive term referring to immigrants from Latin America. It was originally applied to Mexicans illegally crossing the Rio Grande to get to the United States and thereby getting wet.

White flight. In some cities, in parallel with the formation of ghettoes where minorities congregate, white inhabitants have “fled” these areas to move to less ethnically diverse, white-dominated neighborhoods.


ACLU. 2017. “ACLU History”. www.aclu.org/about/aclu-history

Bloomberg (Goldman, Henry). 01-26-2017. “Sanctuary-City Mayors Vow to Defy Trump After He Threatens Funding”. www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-01-26/trump-threat-to-deny-funds-draws-defiance-from-sanctuary-cities

CNN (Merica, Dan et al.). 09-27-2016. “Can Hillary Clinton step out of Bill’s NAFTA shadow?” http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/14/politics/hillary-clinton-trade/

CNN (Kopan, Tal). 01-25-2017. “What are sanctuary cities, and can they be defunded?” http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/25/politics/sanctuary-cities-explained/

CNN (Yan, Holly et al.). 02-17-2017. “Nationwide ‘Day Without Immigrants’ shuts down businesses”. http://edition.cnn.com/2017/02/16/us/day-without-immigrants-vignettes

Department of Homeland Security. 08-08-2016. “Get a Green Card”. www.dhs.gov/how-do-i/get-green-card

The Huffington Post (Kwan, Bernice). 08-26-2015. “I’m a Hyphenated-American and Proud of it”. www.huffingtonpost.com/bernice-kwan/thoughts-from-a-hyphenate_b_8039708.html

The Huffington Post (Horton, Sarah). 09-09-2016. “The Hole in Trump’s Wall”. www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-b-horton/the-hole-in-trumps-wall_b_11939958.html

ICE. 2017. “Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g) Immigration and Nationality Act [Fact sheet]”. www.ice.gov/factsheets/287g

Le Monde (Fattori, Francesca et al.). 01-24-2017. “En carte: explorez la frontière américano-mexicaine”. www.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/visuel/2017/01/24/en-carte-explorez-la-frontiere-americano-mexicaine_5068028_4355770.html

The Los Angeles Times (Hennessy-Fiske, Molly et al.). 06-19-2014. “Republicans blame Obama policies for immigration crisis on border”. www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-immigration-border-20140620-story.html

The Los Angeles Times (McGreevy, Patrick). 12-07-2016. “California considers prohibiting immigration enforcement at public schools and hospitals”. www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-ca-essential-politics-updates-senate-leader-proposes-safe-zones-at-1481144070-htmlstory.html

The Los Angeles Times (Skelton, George). 03-16-2017. “What does ‘sanctuary state’ actually mean? It’s time for lawmakers to figure it out”. www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-sac-skelton-sanctuary-state-compromise-20170316-story.html

National Park Service. 2017a. “Island of Hope, Island of Tears”. www.nps.gov/elis/index.htm

National Park Service. 2017b. “Exploring the Ellis Island Museum”. www.nps.gov/elis/planyourvisit/exploring-the-ellis-island-museum.htm

NBC News (Fuchs, Chris). 03-30-2017. “‘Original Dreamer’ Still Fights for Undocumented Immigrants 16 Years After First Dream Act”. www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/original-dreamer-still-fights-undocumented-immigrants-16-years-after-first-n740491

Newsweek (Higgins, Julia). 12-26-2015. “Immigration: The Myth of the Melting Pot”. www.newsweek.com/immigration-myth-melting-pot-408705

The New York Times. 10-13-1915. “Roosevelt Bars the Hyphenated”. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9901e0dd1239e333a25750c1a9669d946496d6cf

The New York Times (Archibold, Randal). 04-23-2010. “Arizona Enacts Stringent Law on Immigration”. www.nytimes.com/2010/04/24/us/politics/24immig.html?_r=0

The New York Times (Liptak, Adam). 06-25-2012. “Blocking Parts of Arizona Law, Justices Allow Its Centerpiece”. www.nytimes.com/2012/06/26/us/supreme-court-rejects-part-of-arizona-immigration-law.html

The New York Times (Lilla, Mark). 11-18-2016. “The End of Identity Liberalism”. www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/opinion/sunday/the-end-of-identity-liberalism.html?_r=1

The New York Times (Appelbaum, Binyamin et al.). 04-27-2017. “Trump’s Day of Hardball and Confusion on NAFTA”. www.nytimes.com/2017/04/27/us/politics/trump-says-he-will-renegotiate-nafta-or-terminate-it.html?_r=0

Pew Research Center (Lopez, Mark Hugo et al.). 08-15-2014. “5 facts about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program”. www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/08/15/5-facts-about-the-deferred-action-for-childhood-arrivals-program/

Pew Research Center (Krogstad, Jens Manuel). 01-19-2016. “Key facts about immigrants eligible for deportation relief under Obama’s expanded executive actions”. www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/01/19/key-facts-immigrants-obama-action/

Pew Research Center (Passel, Jeffrey et al.). 11-17-2016. “Children of unauthorized immigrants represent rising share of K-12 students”. www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/17/children-of-unauthorized-immigrants-represent-rising-share-of-k-12-students/

United We Dream. 2017. “About Us”. https://unitedwedream.org/about/our-missions-goals/

USCIS. 04-15-2015. “2014 Executive Actions on Immigration.” www.uscis.gov/immigrationaction

USCIS. 12-22-2016. “Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)”. www.uscis.gov/daca

The Washington Post (Phillips, Amber). 08-20-2015. “Is ‘anchor baby’ a derogatory term? A history of the debate”. www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/08/20/is-anchor-baby-a-derogatory-term-a-history-of-the-debate/?utm_term=.e5e9a935899b

The Washington Post (Jan, Tracy). 02-21-2017. “With NAFTA in Trump’s crosshairs, Mexico’s border factories brace for the unknown”. www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/with-nafta-in-trumps-crosshairs-mexicos-border-factories-brace-for-the-unknown/2017/02/21/f91a3960-ee49-11e6-b4ff-ac2cf509efe5_story.html?utm_term=.9938cc6d7032

The Washington Post (Weigel, David). 03-12-2017. “ACLU is leading a million-dollar resistance effort against Trump’s policies”. www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/aclu-is-spending-millions-on-grass-roots-resistance-campaign/2017/03/12/f0fe8158-05ed-11e7-ad5b-d22680e18d10_story.html?utm_term=.eccec2163a23

Pour citer cette ressource :

Anne-Kathrin Marquardt, "Immigration to the United States of America - Glossary", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), mai 2017. Consulté le 22/05/2024. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/civilisation/domaine-americain/immigration-et-minorites/immigration-to-the-united-states-of-america-current-challenges-and-debates-glossary