The Biden administration, in a public departure from previous immigration policy, has declared that words such as “alien” and “illegal alien” are out and “noncitizen” and “integration” are in.
The administration has asked the heads of Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to update their terminology “in response to the vision set by the administration.”
“We enforce our nation’s laws while also maintaining the dignity of every individual with whom we interact. The words we use matter and will serve to further confer that dignity to those in custody,” says a memo to the agencies’ leaders dated Monday.
The memo described the new words as “the preferred terminology” and “inclusive language.”
The changes, which are considered guidance, will apply to agency outreach, internal documents and communications with stakeholders, partners and the general public.
CBP and ICE leaders are responsible for implementing the vocabulary update.
The memo said that the agencies “set a tone and example” for the country and its world partners and that their communication and conduct must reflect professionalism.
Other wording changes ordered include dropping “unaccompanied alien children” for “noncitizen unaccompanied children” and “assimilation” for integration or civic integration.
The word “alienage” would change to “non-citizenship,” and “immigrant assimilation” would change to “immigrant integration.” There are options for “undocumented alien” and “illegal alien”: “undocumented noncitizen,” “undocumented individual” and “migrant.”
At Citizenship and Immigration Services — the agency that handles naturalizations, green cards, visas and other immigration benefits —acting Director Tracy Renaud signed a memorandum on Feb. 12 to adopt the administration guidance on the language changes, said spokesman Joe Sowers.
Because the word changes don’t affect legal language or operational documents, one thing that won’t change for any of the agencies is reference to the files on people who enter the immigration system as “Alien” files.
Dangerous language that “dehumanizes”
The changes were hailed by Democrats and advocates who have long slammed the language as offensive.
Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., said the language changes would also help change public perception.
“These changes are a much-needed shift away from the negative rhetoric weaponized by the previous administration, and a small change that reveals how humanity can be reflected in our immigration policies,” said Barragán, a member of the Homeland Security Committee.
The changes were first reported by The Washington Post.
President Joe Biden had signaled the potential changes in the immigration bill he sent to Congress, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, on the day he was sworn in as president, Jan. 20.
The bill called for changing “alien” to “noncitizen” in immigration laws, which the administration said was to recognize the country as a nation of immigrants.
The White House has touted Biden’s immigration proposal as an effort to “restore humanity and American values” to the country’s immigration laws and policies.
Immigration advocacy groups and immigrants themselves have long pushed for changes in the immigration lexicon, mostly the descriptions of people as “illegals” or as “illegal aliens.”
The terms have been seen as dehumanizing and as hate language by advocates, while groups that want to restrict immigration have clung to the words.
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