Citing the immigration scholar, Francesca Pizzutelli, Fabio Rojas explains that the phrase “illegal immigrant” wasn’t a part of the English language before the 1930s. More often, people used the phrase “irregular immigrant.” Instead of an evaluative term, it was a descriptive one referring to people who moved around and often crossed borders for work.
Rojas points out that the language began to change after anti-immigration laws were passed by Congress in the 1920s. The graph above also reveals a steep climb in both “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien” beginning in the ’70s.Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.