Now that the Associated Press has banned the phrase “illegal immigrants” from the lexicon of all good journalists, some enterprising researchers have combed through history to determine how much the phrase has surfaced in the White House.
The answer: plenty.
President Obama, in fact, has used the term “illegal immigrant” 28 times during his presidency, beginning on his 51st day in office and as recently as late January of this year says Eric Ostermeier, director of Smart Politics, a research group at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
The last time Mr. Obama uttered the words “illegal immigrants” was on Jan. 29 during an appearance at a Las Vegas high school. “First, we strengthened security at the borders so that we could finally stem the tide of illegal immigrants,” M. Obama told his audience.
“Now, with the AP giving the president further cover to use other phrases, such as ‘undocumented workers,’ one wonders if Obama will ever utter the phrase ‘illegal immigrants’ again,” muses Mr. Ostermeier.
The phrase itself is not new.
Harry Truman was the first president to make a public reference to illegal immigrants - doing so 11 times in a July 1951 “special message” to the Congress on the Employment of Agricultural Workers from Mexico.
But it would be 30 years before the next president used the term. Ronald Reagan released a Statement on United States Immigration and Refugee Policy on July 30, 1981 noting, “Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force.”
Mr. Ostermieier observes, “Reagan, of course, famously signed a bill in 1986 that gave amnesty to millions of individuals who had entered the country before 1982 and he never again used the phrase during his presidency. Neither did George H.W. Bush, although Bill Clinton put it on the table 84 times. “
Then there is George W. Bush, who referenced “illegal immigrants” more than any other president, at 157 times.The majority of those references occurred in 2006 and 2007 when Mr. Bush pushed Congress to pass immigration reform legislation, the research says.