What is the legal difference between a Migrant and Illegal alien in the USA?

Are these legal terms?

A migrant can either be legal or illegal.

Paperwork to be here legally as well as following the process to remain, and if desired, obtain citizenship.

Speaking from experience as my wife is foreign born, it’s actually not hard, just lengthy.

“Illegal alien” is a propaganda term; the actual term is “undocumented immigrant”.

When I was growing up in California, “migrant worker” often referred to Mexicans working in the U.S., often doing seasonal agricultural work, on temporary visas. They were also called ‘Braceros.’ There were almost half a million Braceros in the U.S. in the late 1950’s but by 1964 the program was terminated.

I think there is some talk of the U.S. and Mexico restarting such a program.

“Alien” is a long-standing legal term meaning a person who is not a citizen of the country in which they are located. See 8 U.S.C. 1101 (“The term “alien” means any person not a citizen or national of the United States.”). “Illegal alien” isn’t really a legal term (although it appears at times in statutes and court decisions), but a general descriptor for aliens who are present in the country in violation of the immigration laws.

According to the UN, a “migrant worker” is “a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national.” Which I guess would broadly include any alien who has a job. They can, of course, be legal or illegal aliens.

It was always my understanding that a migrant worker in the US was someone employed in a seasonal capacity away from home – usually travelling to some sort of seasonal labor site and living there short term. That’s how the term is used in the federal Migrant & Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. See 29 USC 1802 (a migrant has employment “of a seasonal or other temporary nature, and who is required to be absent overnight from his permanent place of residence.”). In that sense, a migrant does not need to be an alien at all.

Well, I’m currently looking at 8 U.S. Code § 1252c — “Authorizing State and local law enforcement officials to arrest and detain certain illegal aliens” — which could’ve used a different term for an immigrant who is undocumented, but instead used that term when referencing “an alien illegally present in the United States”.

This article does a pretty good job of explaining the term in federal law. It does appear in the language of a few parts of the US code. It has also been used in SCOTUS rulings. The more commonly used terms in the code are inadmissible aliens and unauthorized aliens. Undocumented immigrant is not a legal term and it would be more accurate to call it propaganda than labeling illegal alien that way.

Read the whole thing:(a) In general Notwithstanding any other provision of law, to the extent permitted by relevant State and local law, State and local law enforcement officials are authorized to arrest and detain an individual who—
(1) is an alien illegally present in the United States; and
(2) has previously been convicted of a felony in the United States and deported or left the United States after such conviction

I’ve read it; under an “arrest and detain certain illegal aliens” heading, we get quick mention of two separable criteria: one is that the “alien” be “illegally” present; and number two is what such an individual also has to do to get so arrested and detained, beyond just having a presence which — like I was just saying — is described in terms of alienness and illegality, per the bit helpfully spelling out that certain illegal aliens can, y’know, be arrested and detained.

Which illegal aliens can be arrested and detained? Certain ones. Which ones? Well, not just those who meet Criterion #1, which references illegality and alienness; but those who also meet Criterion #2, sure…

To get back to the OP’s question:

A migrant is a person who works a job for a while and then moves to a different area to work a different job. The usual example is an agricultural worker who moves around as different growing seasons require extra labor. A migrant may or may not be an illegal alien. But many illegal aliens work as migrants because its a job where it’s relatively easy to avoid law enforcement.

An illegal alien is a person from one country who is residing in a second country without the permission of that second country’s government. Such a person either entered the country illegally or entered legally but stayed past the point they were legally allowed to remain.

It’s not hard if you’re married to an American citizen. But if you’re not, it becomes a lot more difficult.

That term may be preferred by some, but it’s just as much a ‘propaganda term’, and not particularly accurate. Almost all of the ‘undocumented immigrants’ have documents to prove who they are and where they’re from, and many have passports. The only missing document is a visa.

I prefer the term ‘foreign national’. It’s a simple non-judgmental term, and accurately describes a person as not a citizen of the country they are in. I’ve been a foreign national when I’ve been overseas. No shame, no stigma, simple and accurate.

Additional descriptors can be added as needed. ‘Foreign national without authorization’ captures both the illegal border crossers and those who overstay their visas.

I don’t expect it to catch on. No propaganda value.

The Supreme Court has referred to aliens unlawfully present in the United States as “illegal aliens.” See, e.g., Plyler v Doe, 457 US 202 (1982):

(emphasis added)

It’s not clear to me what authority you’re relying upon to suggest that “illegal alien,” is not “the actual term.” Can you share it?

This is very odd. Migrant workers, going back to the Great Depression and before were mostly US citizens. The famous “Okies” going west often did migrant labor.

If you accept the UN definition that leaves a hole in the lexicon. What do you call someone who does the same jobs, moves around, etc. but is a citizen of the country they work in?

To me, the key is not the country of origin but “migrates” around to work various seasonal jobs.

Note that online dictionaries only include the transnational migrants as a sub-definition, if at all.

I’d have to say that a Migrant Worker in the USA, is what USA law and USA social convention and culture calls it, regardless of UN definition

ISTM from what has been quoted, “illegal alien” is an officially accepted short form terminology, used in court writs and legislation headers and summaries, to refer to the class more specifically designated “aliens illegally present in the United States” in the full text of the law. Now, that doesn’t mean, either, that there is a mandate that “this is what you ***will ***call them”, but it is correct usage in that context. (I guess if we wanted we could start saying “AIPUS” as the short form, but good luck with that. Courts unlike militaries seem to detest acronymspeak).

However because of abuse or misuse of the term in media/political/propaganda venues, the alternative “undocumented immigrant” was put forward and long advocated, but this descriptor is itself not an “official term”. As mentioned, you can be quite well documented and the documents be all legit and in order AND still be illegally present. Plus you can be a foreign national residing in a country and not be an immigrant, merely an expatriate.

What is a nonstandard, loaded usage is turning the adjective into a noun and saying “an illegal” or “the illegals”.

Der Trihs:

No, the exact opposite is true.

Tell me, did these “undocumented immigrants” enter and remain in the US through legal channels and are simply missing some paperwork? Or did they enter/remain as long as they did in contravention of United States law, i.e., illegal?

I’m just going from memory here but it seems to me that the term illegal immigrant used to be the most common one. At some point it switched to illegal alien.

In Europe we call them migrant workers; whether they’re nationals of that country, of a different EU country or of a third country is a separate question and in order to differentiate them we stick another adjective. Very often when the group in question is from the same country the extra adjective doesn’t even stop at country but goes down to region of origin. The immense majority of their problems (bad housing, lack of access to healthcare, insisting in working when you can see that person is in no shape to work, nonpayment) and of the problems part of them cause (leaving a job half-way is the most common one) are not directly linked to nationality, or not linked in a “nationals of the same country are better” kind of way: a local who thought picking peaches would be easy money is the person most likely to leave midway through the first morning.

Little Nemo:

I don’t know how long ago you’re thinking it switched, but I clearly remember a “Mork and Mindy” episode (what would that be, somewhere between 1978-1980?) in which Mork (an alien in the sense of being from another planet, for those who have never heard of the show) is told about illegal aliens and he tries, in comedic fashion, to get right with immigration. So it can’t be that recent a change.