The Illegal

"So don't tell anybody, what I'm gonna do
If they find out, you know that they'll never let me through..."
Genesis, "Illegal Alien"

A character who has entered the country illegally. They are usually female, speak with a Central or Eastern European accent (sometimes their home country won't be specified) and are being exploited by the evil people traffickers who brought them over. They will probably end up in a brothel or strip club.

Getting increasingly common in UK crime drama.

A common trope on U.S. police shows, as well. The nationality of the person being exploited varies. Exploited sweatshop workers are Latino, Asians, or occasionally Eastern Europeans. If it's people trafficking for purposes of prostitution, it's almost always Asian women, from China, Thailand, other semi-industrial countries. An appropriate mob organization (Russians, Tongs, Yakuza, The Irish Mob, Italians) will be the string-pullers.

In any case, the person in question, due to fear, language barriers, and poverty, will have little recourse. Cooperating with the cops can mean a death sentence.

A recent variation happens because illegal immigration is a political issue in the USA. Typically the illegal alien is Mexican, hardworking, speaks perfect English, can be of either sex, and is exploited only in minor ways which elicit sympathy for him without implying he'd have been better off staying home.


Anime and Manga
  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei has an unusual Japanese version: Maria, an illegal alien, probably from Brazil or the Middle East somewhere. Interestingly, she defies stereotypes by using the identity of a male student but does not crossdress.
    • She's also much younger than the person whose identity she bought, which along with the lack of education in her own country makes her attendance in high school pretty much an exercise in futility.
  • Ling Yao of Fullmetal Alchemist is an illegal immigrant from a place called Xing. He's sent to jail, but breaks out later.
    • Though since he's a prince, he could probably be considered a diplomat or such, but he didn't have his papers (and they wouldn't believe he was only 15) when he was arrested.
    • The other three characters from Xing (Fu, Lan Fan, and May Chang) are also there illegally, but they never got arrested.
  • In Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, Usso's family, as well as Shakti, are mentioned to be illegal immigrants to Kassarellia. The reason is that they are actually Colonial citizens from Side 2 (which is currently at war with the Federation), and the Earth Federation very rarely allows immigration from the Colonies to the Earth's surface.

Comic Books
  • In the Uncanny X-Men, a group of (ex-mutant) women are imported from Russia as prostitutes.
  • The current S.W.O.R.D. series involves Henry Peter Gyrich (Marvel's go-to for "Jackass Bureaucrat") taking control of the eponymous organization, then promptly declaring that every alien on Earth, whether they previously had clearance or not, is now an illegal, and begins taking measures to have every last one deported. Even the ones who come from empires or planets that no longer exist.
  • Klara Prast of the Runaways may be an illegal alien. According to promotional materials released around the time of the team's guest appearance in Avengers Academy, there's no record of her having entered the United States. Her backstory also fits with that of many illegals - she was forced to work in an unsafe factory and sexually exploited by her much older husband (for reference, she was about eleven years old at the time.)

  • The movie Men In Black starts with the The Men in Black intercepting a bunch of Mexicans trying to cross the border into the United States. Preventing aliens from entering the country illegally, however, turns out to be not their primary concern... unless the illegal aliens are from outer space.
  • The villain in Coneheads is an INS agent determined to expose the Coneheads as not only space aliens, but illegal aliens, and have them deported.
  • In Bowfinger, when Bobby Bowfinger needs a film crew, he just goes to California's border with Mexico and offers shelter to a few fugitive immigrants.
  • Meta-example: When Janette Goldstein showed up to audition for Aliens, she had interpreted the title as meaning illegal aliens and showed up dressed as a migrant worker. Made it into the movie as a joke over breakfast.

Live-Action TV
  • The Wire has dead eastern European woman found in a cargo container as the impetus for that season's investigation.
  • Angel has a bunch of women exported from another dimension.
  • I Married Dora was about a millionaire who married his illegal alien maid so she could get a green card.
  • Taxi: Latka turns out to be an illegal and marries a prostitute for a green card.
  • One of Dexter's victims was importing illegal immigrants, then holding them prisoner to extort money from family members already in the country.
  • Catalina from My Name Is Earl. She came to America in a box from a Banana Republic called "Guadelatucky" to escape from her mother, who was trying to kill her to get a kidney for her brother.
  • JAG: In "Sightings", a terrified Mexican man in tattered clothing appears outside J.D.'s trailer just before the bright lights and deafening noise hit (and Cathy's disappearance). It seems he was trying to escape from the Cartel's underground base, where illegal immigrants were being forced to work in the drug running operation.


Second variation:

Comic Books
  • In the 2008 "American Dream" miniseries from Marvel Comics, American Dream meets an illegal alien of this type.

Live-Action TV
  • Shown in Smallville where an illegal alien boy working in Kansas was one of the few people who found out Clark's secret. The episode also compared illegal aliens to Clark. Admittedly it's a little heavy-handed in the comparison.
    • Clark muses over the fact that technically he's pretty much the ultimate illegal refugee given he isn't even from the same galaxy. Or species. Whilst as a child he was "officially" adopted by the Kents, thus making him legally an American citizen, it's worth noting on the show this adoption was illegally obtained through Lionel Luthor who owed the Kents a favor.
    • Of course the comparison also extended to the fear of being discovered, which is something Clark could relate to and then some. After all the laws regarding citizenship apply to humans or at the very least to individuals born on Earth. As do the laws prohibiting human rights abuse. So quarantining and experimenting on a Kryptonian, for example, wouldn't be illegal.

  • Edilio from Gone is implied to be this.
    • Confirmed in Plague.
    • Results in a Crowning Moment of Awesome in Light: a police officer was about to deport Edilio and his family, but upon recognizing Edilio (now a hero due to his actions in the FAYZ), the officer instead calls four other cars full of cops to protect him.

  • The protagonist/narrator of the Genesis song "Illegal Alien", which provides the page quote. N
  • Calexico's song "Across the Wire" is rather vaguely-worded, but can be interpreted as a song about two Mexican brothers sneaking into the US.
  • The political satire group Capital Steps wrote a song entitled "Welcome to the State of Arizona" (Sung to the tune of "Hotel California") centering around a man in a large coat being confronted by a police officer at the border. Then the man casts off his coat to reveal that he's a Navajo, and proudly states that his people had been fighting against illegal immigration since 1492.

Alternative Title(s):

The Undocumented, Illegal Immigrant, Illegal Alien