The Biden administration has instructed US immigration officials to use more inclusive language to refer to non-US citizens after scrapping the use of the word ‘aliens’.
The move comes as part of wider White House efforts to take a more welcoming approach toward immigrants and eradicate Donald Trump’s controversial immigration stance.
In a memo issued by the acting head of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Tracy Renaud, she instructed officials to overhaul the language used in official documentation, outreach efforts and other communications directed at immigrants.
The memo suggested the replacement of certain terminology, including ‘alien’ with ‘non-citizen’ and ‘illegal alien’ with ‘undocumented non-citizen.’ It was also recommended that the term ‘integration’ be used when referring to immigrants becoming part of US society, rather than ‘assimilation’, which has been criticized for being racist.
Despite being an official legal term, the decision was taken to scrap the use of the word ‘alien’ amid claims by US immigration advocates that it is ‘dehumanizing’.
University of Denver law professor, César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, told BuzzFeed News: “It’s offensive to describe people using the same word that conjures images of two-headed Martian invaders.”
In 2018, the Trump administration instructed US immigration officials to use the term ‘illegal aliens’ rather than ‘undocumented’, despite a backlash from immigration advocates and government officials. The former US President was also criticized for using other derogatory immigration-related terms that are considered offensive such as ‘chain migration’.
Immigration reform bill
46th US President, Joe Biden, has also called for the use of non-citizen, rather than alien, in federal US immigration laws in his proposed immigration reform bill which he recently unveiled.
In a statement made to Forbes, USCIS spokesperson Joe Sowers confirmed Tracy Renaud’s memo. However, he noted that it does not apply to 'legal, policy or other operational documents’, where the language dictated in the Immigration and Nationality Act would be ‘most appropriate’.
However, perhaps unsurprisingly, Biden’s decision to remove the use of the term ‘alien’ from federal documentation has sparked criticism from the right.
In a January blog post for the Center for Immigration Studies – an organisation that favors limiting US immigration - Trump-era USCIS official, Robert Law, wrote: “The term ‘alien’ is precise, accurate, and in no way offensive. To suggest otherwise is to suspend reality and is not a serious or reasonable position.”
US immigration policy a top priority
Since his inauguration, Biden has signed numerous executive orders in an effort to reverse many of Trump’s controversial US immigration policies. The final version of his immigration reform bill was unveiled earlier this week and includes a proposed pathway to citizenship for ‘Dreamers’ under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and other immigrants.
There are also provisions in the bill to reform family-based immigration and asylum.
Biden has already got rid of the former President’s controversial Muslim travel ban, reversed the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy for asylum seekers and has targeted an increase in the number of refugee admissions. He has also scrapped a ‘national emergency’ order that enabled funding for Trump’s anti-immigrant border wall.
His stance toward undocumented immigrants is also more favorable, with measures passed such as rescinding plans for undocumented immigrants to be removed from the US Census count and announcing that US immigration authorities will not arrest people at coronavirus vaccination centers.
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