I'm perplexed. How does the fact that his autobiography follows a template reflect badly on him? Or, even more, suggest that he used a ghostwriter? You could also say this follows the template of the American Dream story. But there's nothing inherently sinister about that. Or do you believe otherwise?
That is... unless you imagine that we're the same person? A secret, lone antagonist chasing you around MyDD under different identities? If so, a poem for you in choliambic meter:
Suffenus iste, Vare, quem probe nosti,
homo est venustus et dicax et urbanus,
idemque longe plurimos facit versus.
puto esse ego illi milia aut decem aut plura
perscripta, nec sic ut fit in palimpseston
relata: cartae regiae, novi libri,
novi umbilici, lora rubra membranae,
derecta plumbo et pumice omnia aequata.
haec cum legas tu, bellus ille et urbanus
Suffenus unus caprimulgus aut fossor
rursus videtur: tantum abhorret ac mutat.
hoc quid putemus esse? qui modo scurra
aut si quid hac re scitius videbatur,
idem infaceto est infacetior rure,
simul poemata attigit, neque idem unquam
aeque est beatus ac poema cum scribit:
tam gaudet in se tamque se ipse miratur.
nimirum idem omnes fallimur, neque est quisquam
quem non in aliqua re videre Suffenum
possis. suus cuique attributus est error;
sed non videmus manticae quod in tergo est.
To set the record straight, if you recheck that link Adam B provided, you'll see that I was actually the one who compiled that - in scare quotes - "evidence." So, if you want to accuse someone of obsession and immaturity, at least launch the barbs at the right person.
Well, see, that's the thing... I can't decide. The narcissism seems too exaggerated to be believable except to think he's a troll, toying with everyone. But most trolls burn out, and this is the energizer bunny.
I did have to look up onanism, by the way. Turns out it's not polite to do in public.
Undocumented is a literally accurate term, which is fairly neutral as to the morality of the people involved. Being "undocumented" isn't necessarily good or bad; it's just a fact.
Illegal is a literally accurate term if you accept this argument for why it's actually a standard usage. (If you accept what Nunberg says, it isn't accurate, because it would be a nonstandard usage to refer to people rather than their activities as illegal.) The difference is that the word "illegal" also very strongly suggests a moral deficit. Illegal people aren't good people.
You can certainly argue one versus the other. Like I've said, even some advocates for "illegal" or "undocumented" immigrants use the former rather than the latter. And some people (who are not advocates) would say that a hint of immorality is exactly what they want to convey.
Unlike "undocumented" or "illegal," though, citizens is just wrong. So it's a silly comparison.
I also thought I'd point out that this is a little bit of an oversimplification:
Then too, we don't usually describe law-breakers as being illegal in themselves. Jack Abramoff may have done illegal lobbying, but nobody has called him an illegal lobbyist. And whatever laws Bernie Ebbers and Martha Stewart may have broken, they weren't illegal CEO's.
It's a standard usage to refer to "lawbreakers as being illegal in themselves" when the activity they're doing requires some kind of documentation (a license, a visa, etc.) and they don't have it.
For example (samples of each of these are in the links):
In each of these cases, you need a license from the state to do something. You don't have the license. Your identity as a protester, or midwife, or barber is modified with the description "illegal," because it's not about how you're doing the activity, it's about your right to do it at all.
Illegal CEO or illegal lobbyist isn't really a good comparison, because Martha Stewart didn't lack the credentials to legally act as a CEO, nor did Abramoff lack the credentials to legally act as a lobbyist. It's a linguistic distinction that I think we follow nearly without exception - we only call someone an illegal x if they aren't allowed to do x at all.
Now, there are a number of ways to overcome this and make the argument stand up just as strongly:
1) Show that these other uses are actually very rare in practice.
2) Show that in these other cases, there's a similar kind of stigma attached.
3) Show that there's something truly unique about "illegal immigrants" that makes that term more loaded than, say, "illegal barber."
You could probably make any of these three work. E.g., unlicensed vendors are often immigrants who are looked down on anyway; midwives and protesters are viewed with suspicion even when they have licenses; etc.
There's another similarity between all these cases that pops to mind - a kind of gatekeeping, where insiders (licensed vendors and barbers; OB/GYNs; citizens) want to keep outsiders... out.
In any case, that part of the argument probably could do with further development.
In academic circles, among people who study migration, I haven't heard any debate regarding the use of the word "alien." It's pretty clearly derogatory and dehumanizing, for all the reasons you (and Professor Nunberg) cite.
The use of the word "illegal" is a little more controversial. I agree with your analysis. There are some scholars who have pointed out, though, that the word "illegal" is used by many undocumented international migrants themselves (not just in the US, but elsewhere in the developed world). It can be the best way to reflect true lived experience - in other words, it highlights rather than hides the second-class status and fear of law enforcement officers many such people feel on an everyday basis.
So, some researchers (and even some advocates) self-consciously use the term "illegal immigrants" in their writing to capture this.
But you could make a really strong argument that there's a difference between...
- Members of a community using a term like "illegal" to refer to themselves, highlighting rather than obscuring what daily life is like.
- Researchers using the term in a careful, self-conscious way to reflect that.
- Everyday use in the media, which lacks any of this framing, and usually just furthers the notion that there's something fundamentally sinister about this group of people.
In everyday life, I say "undocumented." In the media, that's what I think is most appropriate. In certain settings, where the point is to highlight the way "illegal" immigration is actually experienced by many of the people who go through it, I may use the word "illegal."