San Diego County changes 'illegal' to 'undocumented'

The argument over whether to call people living in the United States without authorization "illegal immigrants" or "undocumented immigrants" has in recent years become much more than just a battle about semantics – it has morphed into where one stands in regard to U.S. immigration policies.

One California county along the U.S.-Mexico border has taken a big stand in this fight by officially changing the term "illegal" to "undocumented" when referring to immigrants in its list of legislative priorities.

During a Board of Supervisors meeting, San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox led the effort to change the term to "undocumented immigrant," which he argued  is now used in federal legislation and that it’s proper to use that "term of art" when working with policymakers.

"It’s just a different environment today," he said, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I think times are changing and I think this was the right time."

Cox’s move to change the term wasn’t met with unanimous approval in a county that is home to one of the world’s busiest border crossings in San Ysidro. The board of supervisors, which traditionally votes unanimously decision, instead voted 3-2 in favor of changing the term, with conservative Dianne Jacob and Bill Horn being the two dissenting votes.

"They’re still entering the country illegally," Horn said. "I will oppose it. I understand being politically correct. But sometimes I’m not."

Cox said the last time the board saw a split like that was almost two years ago, when he pushed to rescind a supervisors’ policy supporting a constitutional amendment that would deny birthright U.S. citizenship to children born to parents who entered the country illegally. Jacob and Horn voted against that measure as well.

"Undocumented immigrant" is just the latest popular term used when discussing immigration-related issues. When the county first introduced its immigration-related legislative goals in 1993, "illegal alien" was commonly used, before being changed to "illegal immigrant" and finally "undocumented immigrant."

While the name change has occurred, San Diego still takes a strict stance on immigration-related issues, such as supporting federal legislation that sanctions employers who knowingly hire unauthorized immigrants and handing out lengthy sentences for people convicted of smuggling immigrants.

The county however, plans to halt endorsing federal policies that make undocumented immigrants ineligible for health, education and other benefits.

"I want to educate kids, and if we have some epidemic or something, I want people to have access to the treatments that they need," Supervisor Ron Roberts told the Union-Tribune.