We use the term ‘undocumented migrant’ rather than the pejorative term ‘illegal’ migrant which is used by politicians and certain media to stigmatise this group of people, and as a useful and longstanding political strategy of scapegoating migrants for any range of chosen issues. This strategy is often very effective, and increasingly so in the current political climate, because this group have no political voice.
We prefer ‘undocumented’ because these people are actually human beings.
It is normal for countries to have a proportion of people who are undocumented for various reasons, including increasingly difficult ‘regular’ means by which people can migrate and maintain legal status, and increasingly difficult asylum application processes, with low success rates and declining legal aid.
Undocumented people are in every country, have always been with us, always will be, and approximately half a million are estimated to live in the U.K., including an estimated 120,000 children, 65,000 of whom were actually born in the UK. These are the people that some choose to call ‘illegal’.
Fortunately, as health professionals we are well placed to recognise human beings for who they are.
If our action aims to achieve one thing, this recognition would be it. People will work out for themselves how we should treat these people when they see them as human beings.
Many other civilised countries recognise this and take an entirely different approach to undocumented migrants, we can do this too.
* Another alternative term used in academic literature is ‘irregular’ migrant