Sotomayor: Labeling Illegal Immigrants Criminals Is Insulting

CBS DC, February 4, 2014

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who grew up poor in New York City, described Monday how she navigated new worlds of Ivy League universities and the nation’s highest court.

Sotomayor told students at Yale University that she has a competitive drive to improve herself and isn’t afraid to ask questions.

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On the Supreme Court since 2009, Sotomayor said it was tough at first as justices made references that went over her head. She said joining the high court amounted to joining an ongoing conversation among justices who had served for years.

“I figure I may not be the smartest judge on the court but I’m going to be a competent justice,” she said. “I’m going to try to be the best I can and each year I think my opinions have been getting better. And I’m working at finding my voice a little bit.”

Sotomayor was asked at a talk at Yale Law School later in the day about her use of the term “undocumented immigrants” rather than the traditional illegal alien. Sotomayor characterized the issue as a regulatory problem and said labeling immigrants criminals seemed insulting to her.

“I think people then paint those individuals as something less than worthy human beings and it changes the conversation,” Sotomayor said.

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She admitted that she sometimes finds herself stuck between two worlds, one in which her colleagues talk of operas and another in which she sees a cockroach in an apartment in her old Bronx neighborhood and flees.

“Sometimes I do feel I’m not part of either world completely,” she said. “My life has changed so much that going back I don’t feel I’m completely part of the conversation.”

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