The Washington Times - February 5, 2013, 10:58AM

Opening the first immigration hearing of the new Congress, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee warned his colleagues not to use the term “illegal immigrant” as the debate goes on.

“I hope no one uses the term illegal immigrants here today. Our citizens are not — the people in this country are not illegal. They are are out of status. They are new Americans that are immigrants,” said Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat.

As Congress begins the immigration debate, both sides are preparing for an emotionally charged fight, and language will be one of the battlegrounds.

Many immigrant-rights advocates object to the terms “illegal” and “alien,” saying that people cannot be deemed illegal, and that the word “alien” makes them sound inhuman. They argue the better terms are “undocumented migrants.”

Many newspapers, including The Washington Times, use the phrase “illegal immigrant,” deeming it the most accurate description.

But defenders of the term “alien” argue that an immigrant is someone who arrived here legally, while an alien is any foreigner — therefore an “illegal alien” is the proper description for those who are here outside of the law.

Academics, searching for a more neutral term, have recently begun using “unauthorized migrants” as their phrase of choice.