The Biden administration on Monday directed U.S. immigration enforcement agencies to stop using language such as “alien,” “illegal alien” and “assimilation” when referring to immigrants in the United States, according to a new report.
In memos sent to department heads at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection on Monday, obtained by the Washington Post, the agencies were instructed to replace “alien” with “noncitizen or migrant,” “illegal” with “undocumented,” and “assimilation” with “integration.”
“As the nation’s premier law enforcement agency, we set a tone and example for our country and partners across the world,” CBP’s top official, Troy Miller, wrote in his memo, according to the Post. “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 our custody.”
ICE acting director Tae Johnson shared a similar sentiment in a separate memo: “In response to the vision set by the Administration, ICE will ensure agency communications use the preferred terminology and inclusive language.”
The shift, which applies to both internal correspondence and public communications, will take effect immediately. It follows similar guidance issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which processes green cards and citizenship applications.
Immigration activists have criticized the terms as archaic and dehumanizing, though some officials and federal judges have defended the term “alien,” as it is the official definition of noncitizen in federal laws. Officials acknowledge that the terms may still need to be used in “legal or operational documents.”
Illegal immigrants, legal permanent residents and visitors arriving on visas for work or tourism are all considered noncitizens.
The order comes after Biden proposed eliminating the use of the word “alien” in federal immigration laws in the citizenship bill he proposed on his first day in office.
The White House has argued that swapping “alien” for “noncitizen” recognizes the United States as “a nation of immigrants.”
The move comes as the administration’s immigration policies have remained in the national spotlight amid a worsening crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last month called the situation at the border “difficult” and said the administration is “on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.”
Yet debate over the parlance has raged for years: California passed a state law in 2015 prohibiting the use of the term alien in the labor code. In February, a Democratic lawmaker filed a bill that would ban the use of the term in state laws in such areas as housing, education, natural resources and driver’s licenses.
The bill says laws should use alternative terms for noncitizens, including “a person who is not a citizen or national of the United States.”