USA and the UK
Biden brings end to use of terms such as ‘illegal alien’ and ‘assimilation’
In a move welcomed by migrants’ rights campaigners, charities and advocates, President Biden has urged immigration agencies to stop using terms such as ‘illegal alien’ and ‘assimilation’ throughout their guidance.
As far back as the late 1700s, the term ‘alien’ – derived from the Latin ‘alienus’, defined as an outsider or foreigner – has been used in the US to describe immigrants, yet this term has been decried as derogatory and dehumanising for decades. Campaigners have long argued that terms such as ‘illegal alien’ feed into a narrative of ‘othering’, which inevitably cultivates xenophobic sentiments.
During his term as president, Trump frequently used the term ‘alien’ to describe migrants, particularly when presenting them as a threat to US citizens. Biden has acknowledged how divisive this language is and has subsequently ordered immigration agencies to stop using such terms within their guidance.
The Biden administration has marked the changes as a symbol of recognition that the US is a ‘nation of immigrants’, and that the use of dehumanising language to describe any human being should not be promoted.
ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials have issued the updated language guidance for all external and internal communications, with the term ‘alien’ being replaced with either ‘non-citizen’ or ‘migrant’, and the phrase ‘illegal alien’ being replaced with ‘undocumented individual’ or ‘undocumented non-citizen’.
In addition, the term ‘assimilation’ has been replaced with ‘integration’, with the Biden administration attempting to pave the way for a more ‘humane immigration system’.
The changes come at a time when Biden is under intense scrutiny for the so-called ‘crisis’ at the US border, as rising numbers of arrivals from Central America are facing delays, causing a backlog of cases. Republicans have jumped at the chance to paint the lexicon changes as evidence that Biden is exacerbating the ‘crisis’ and weakening immigration enforcement.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) echoed these sentiments on Twitter, stating: “This kind of weakness and obsession with political correctness is why we’re having a crisis on the border in the first place.”
But the Biden administration has refuted these claims, reinforcing the significance of vocabulary in influencing public perception. Troy Miller, CBP’s top official, argued: “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.”
Federal officials have also rejected accusations of political correctness, arguing that, on the contrary, these changes are part of a broader effort to realign agencies that became highly politicised under Trump.
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