Last week USA Today ran a story on several recent campaigns to save people who were brought to the United States as children by their parents, from deportation as adults. Their headline? “Groups Try to Delay Deportations of Illegal Students.”

USA Today, like many media outlets (but unlike Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor) routinely uses the term illegal immigrant rather than the more accurate “undocumented immigrant.” But “illegal students” was an unwelcome novelty.

There are several problems with “illegal immigrant,” beginning with the fact that being in the US without documentation is a violation, not a crime. “Illegal student,” however, is even more problematic, though, because it describes a status that’s virtually non-existent.

Some people do, of course, immigrate to the US illegally, and in that sense those people — about half of all undocumented immigrants — could technically be called illegal immigrants. (The term itself is commonly regarded as offensive, of course, and should be avoided for that reason.) But the term illegal student makes no sense at all. In forty-nine of the fifty states, it’s not a violation of the law for an undocumented immigrant to attend school or college.

Pressure from activists led USA Today to alter their headline, changing “Illegal Students” to “Illegal Immigrant Students,” but organizers are keeping up the pressure on the larger issue of the newspaper’s house style — the website dreamactivist.org is running a contest soliciting “music, creative writing, videos, graphics, and programs” critiquing the concept of the illegal immigrant. The contest carries a $500 first prize and runs through January 10.

“All human beings,” it notes, “regardless of citizenship status, are eligible to participate.”