US immigration enforcement agencies will stop using words that advocacy groups and civil rights organisations have long argued are dehumanising terms used to justify discrimination against vulnerable groups.
In a pair of memos to Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as Customs and Border Protection, the agencies directed officers to use “noncitizen or migrant” in place of “alien”; “undocumented” instead of “illegal”; and “integration” instead of “assimilation.”
“As the nation’s premier law enforcement agency, we set a tone and example for our country and partners across the world,” wrote CBP chief Troy Miller. “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.”
The guidance mirrors an earlier action at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Joe Biden’s administration has also sought to replace terminology throughout government agencies as part of a sweeping immigration reform package that he introduced in his first day in office. Legislation was passed by the House of Representatives.
The latest language change was first reported by The Washington Post.
“Words matter,” US Rep Jose “Chuy” Garcia said on Twitter. “This is a small but important step in reversing the dehumanisation of immigrants.”
Mr Biden has sought to reverse the anti-immigration agenda and rhetoric under Donald Trump and “the moral and national shame” of the policies directed by former advisers Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon.
“We have people coming into the country or trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them, but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” Mr Trump said at the White House in 2018. “These aren’t people. These are animals.”
His administration at that time also pursued its “zero tolerance” policy that separated thousands of families at the US-Mexico border, while immigration enforcement agencies leveraged Mr Trump’s rhetoric through official communications and press releases.
In one of his last speeches at the White House, Mr Trump used the term “alien” five times.
Mr Biden’s administration has refused to call the rise of migrants to the US-Mexico border a “crisis”; White House officials and immigration advocates have instead argued that the latest “crisis” is the consequence of failed and neglected immigration policy, violence and persecution in other countries inflamed by the US, the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and trade agreements, and two devastating hurricanes that impacted Central America in 2020.
Migrants only are able to claim asylum once at the US. A controversial measure under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in place since the onset of the pandemic has blocked thousands of adult asylum seekers from the border.
In 2013, the Associated Press, which issues a style guide used by most newsrooms for consistency across platforms, rejected the use of “illegal” when referring to people or immigration, as it is neither neutral or accurate, and has often been invoked as a slur.
California passed a state law in 2015 that bans the term “alien” in the labour code. New York’s city council voted to ban the terms “alien” and “illegal immigrant” in 2019, replacing them with “noncitizen” to end the “dehumanising and offensive” use of the former terms.
“Words matter, and we need to continue to take steps to make sure our policies and our language reflects recognize the vital role of immigrants and immigration to our families, communities and economy,” Peter Boogaard, Communications Director at FWD.us, said in a statement to ABC News.