Maria Sacchetti, Washington Post, April 19, 2021
The Biden administration has ordered U.S. immigration enforcement agencies to stop using terms such as “alien,” “illegal alien” and “assimilation” when referring to immigrants in the United States, a rebuke of terms widely used under the Trump administration.
The change was detailed in memos sent Monday to department heads at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, the nation’s chief enforcers of federal immigration laws, according to copies obtained by The Washington Post. It is part of an ongoing effort to reverse President Donald Trump’s hard-line policies and advance President Biden’s efforts to build a more “humane” immigration system.
Among the changes: “Alien” will become “noncitizen or migrant,” “illegal” will become “undocumented,” and “assimilation” will change to “integration.”
The memos also send a clear signal to a pair of law enforcement agencies — and their associated labor unions, which endorsed Trump’s presidential candidacy — that under the Biden administration, their approach must change.
“As the nation’s premier law enforcement agency, we set a tone and example for our country and partners across the world,” Troy Miller, CBP’s top official, said in his memo. “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.”
Acting ICE director Tae Johnson echoed those words in a separate memo, saying, “In response to the vision set by the Administration, ICE will ensure agency communications use the preferred terminology and inclusive language.”
The new guidance mirrors an earlier directive from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which processes green cards and citizenship applications, and applies broadly to agency communications, including internal correspondence and public information. Officials said the changes take effect immediately.
Border Patrol agents and ICE routinely use “alien” and “illegal” on social media, in news releases and in memos to refer to people they take into custody for allegedly violating civil immigration laws or crossing the border illegally. In the past, officials and some federal judges have defended using “alien” because it is the official definition of noncitizen in federal laws. Officials acknowledge that officials may need to use the terms in “legal or operational documents,” such as when filling out required forms.
Republicans slammed the agencies’ new lexicon as imprecise and a sign that the Biden administration is pulling back on immigration enforcement as a large influx of migrants arrive at the southwest border.
“We use the term ‘illegal alien’ because they’re here illegally,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on Twitter. “This kind of weakness and obsession with political correctness is why we’re having a crisis on the border in the first place.”
Biden proposed eliminating the term “alien” from federal immigration laws in the citizenship bill he sent to Congress on his first day in office. The White House has said that replacing “alien” with “noncitizen” recognizes the United States as “a nation of immigrants” — a phrase the Trump administration had struck from the USCIS mission statement.