The Unwelcome Return of ‘Illegals’

Ten years ago, the political strategist Frank Luntz issued a proclamation about the language of immigration. ‘‘Always refer to people crossing the border illegally as ‘illegal immigrants’ — NOT as ‘illegals,’ ’’ Luntz instructed fellow conservatives. ‘‘Illegals’’ sounds harsh and spiky. As with ‘‘fatties’’ in high school, or ‘‘thugs,’’ it’s a way to write off a group and justify its mistreatment. Luntz says his research showed that ‘‘if you used the word ‘illegals,’ you didn’t get a chance to say anything else — Latino audiences would turn you off.’’

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