Yesterday, I looked down at my speedometer to see that I was driving at 55 mph in a 40 mph zone. I clearly was in violation of traffic laws.

I came home to notice my neighbor firing up a barbeque grill on his balcony–a definite violation of the city fire code.

I then read about how a list of supposed “illegal immigrants” was assembled and circulated in Utah, a probable violation of a host of laws, particularly if, as accused, it was state government employees behind the list.

Yet no one calls me or the millions like me an illegal driver. No one would think to call my neighbor an illegal griller. And has anyone called the Utah culprits illegal list-makers? Not to mention, would anyone dream of converting the adjective into a noun and calling us all “illegals”? Yet, we are all just as “illegal” as the people who are in the U.S. in violation of the immigration laws. (And, yes, the grilling and, in the jurisdiction it happened, the speeding are civil, not criminal, violations. But so is being unlawfully present in the U.S.)

Every time I speak publicly about immigration, I get the predictable crop of sloganeering and hate emails, with the former usually saying “what part of illegal don’t you understand?”

So, let me answer.  People who have come to the U.S. to pick our crops, clean our tables, maintain our yards and take care of our children or grandparents are referred to as “illegals,” as though they are somehow heinous people, and yet those of us who put ourselves and others at risk of potentially fatal car wrecks or fires, or those who have put others at risk of identity theft, vengeful violence, and sheer privacy invasion, are not heatedly condemned.

That is the part of illegal that I don’t understand.