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Changing ‘Illegal Alien’ Verbiage in Immigration Law

The U.S. Administration is ordering immigration enforcement agencies to change how they talk about immigrants.

The terms “illegal alien” and “assimilation” are out — replaced by more equitable terms like “undocumented noncitizen” and “integration.”

The new guidance is laid out in a pair of detailed memos sent Monday by the heads of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to roll back the previous administration’s hard-line policies and build what they call a more “humane” immigration system.

Immigrants and immigrant-rights groups say the term, especially when combined with “illegal,” is dehumanizing and can have a harmful effect on immigration policy.

The word became a focal point of debate in several states earlier this year as the number of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border swelled and led to fierce backlash against Biden administration policies by Republican governors and lawmakers.

Lawmakers in at least seven states considered eliminating the use of “alien” and “illegal” in state statutes this year and replacing them with descriptions such as “undocumented” and “noncitizen,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Two of them, Colorado and California, followed through.

California originally removed the word “alien” from its labor code in 2015. Two Colorado state legislators introduced legislation last year to replace “illegal alien” with “undocumented immigrant” as it pertains to public contracts for services. However, the bill never made it to the state Senate floor for a vote.

New York City lawmakers banned the use of the terms “alien” and “illegal” to refer to undocumented immigrants in local laws, rules and documents, NBC New York reported last year.

People in New York City can also face up to $250,000 in fines if they use the terms “illegal alien” or “illegals” with “intent to demean, humiliate or harass a person” after the city’s Commission on Human Rights issued legal enforcement guidance in 2019 on discrimination based on immigration status and national origin.

The new guidance acknowledges that immigration authorities may still use the term when filling out required forms. But both memos emphasize that agents and officers should begin using the new terminology in internal communications and external correspondence immediately.

These new policies are trying to convey that the way chosen to communicate to others while enforcing the nation’s laws need be respectful and humane, respecting the dignity of individuals.

Do you or a loved one need help with your immigration case? Call us today for a free consultation.

Roberson Law: Legal advice and counsel that is personal, diligent, and responsive.

Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

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