Letter to the Editor:

We would like to thank Lizzie Howell for taking the time to interview us and write the story about Emory student visits to the Stewart Detention Center with El Refugio. We would also like to thank the editorial staff of The Emory Wheel for highlighting the important issue of immigration detention centers and the volunteer efforts carried out at El Refugio (view at www.emorywheel.com).

However, we are disappointed to see the word “illegal” used periodically in the article as an adjective to describe detainees and their families. We are writing to request that The Emory Wheel do two things: 1) edit the online version of this article, replacing the word “illegal” with “undocumented,” and 2) cease to use the word “illegal” as a modifier for the word “immigrants” in future articles.

Simply put, the word “illegal” is a slur when used to describe people. It removes the humanity of the group that it seeks to describe and wrongfully assigns criminality to them without due process of law.  Legally, the label is inaccurate; merely being in the U.S. without proper documentation is a civil offense, not a criminal one.

Individuals held in immigration detention centers are not there because they are a part of the criminal justice system. Deportation is a civil administrative procedure and as such, detainees are not afforded the same rights as those who face criminal charges. They are not granted access to a lawyer like individuals held in jails. Detainees remain in facilities like Stewart Detention Center – the largest immigrant detention center in the U.S. – awaiting a decision on their migration status. For some, this waiting period can span months and for others, years.

The work carried out by El Refugio seeks to mitigate the circumstances brought forth by our broken immigration system, specifically for the families of detainees at Stewart Detention Center. With volunteers from throughout Georgia, El Refugio has actively sought to shed light on the important issue of immigrant detention. We hope that more Emory students from all parts of campus will become involved with El Refugio in the near future.

We are optimistic that articles like the most recent one will ultimately help inform more members of our Emory community about the critical issue of immigration detention. Still, we must not forget that we live in a politically-charged environment where language matters. While many who oppose immigration use labels like “illegal immigrant” to further marginalize groups of people, we hope that the Emory community can rise above this and avoid the use of these labels.

Lastly, we hope that The Emory Wheel will maintain its commitment to impartial journalism and not borrow labels often cited by anti-immigrant groups. We therefore urge The Emory Wheel to correct this error. Again, thank you very much for publishing this story and taking these issues into consideration.


Carla DeSisto, MPH candidate, Rollins School of Public Health

Ray Serrano, PhD student, Laney Graduate School


Response Letter From the Editor 

Dear Ms. DeSisto and Mr. Serrano,

On behalf of the entire Emory Wheel, I apologize for the insensitive use of the word “illegal” in Ms. Howell’s article. The correction has been made online and in the future greater care will be taken when writing about issues such as this one.

Additionally, I want to make clear that as journalists, we at the Wheel take the use of language very seriously and are dedicated to impartial journalism. I regret that the word “illegal” was used in this article. But I can assure you that it was used out of ignorance and oversight, and not because Ms. Howell or anyone at the Wheel was intending to speak out against immigration.

I would like to thank you both for taking the time to write this letter and to inform us of the careless mistake that was made. I appreciate your dedication and care. I hope that in the future there will not be a reason to write this sort of letter, but we are always receptive to critique and welcome feedback at all times.


Arianna Skibell