In a push to use more inclusive terminology for immigrants, the Biden administration is pushing officials to drop the word “alien” in favor of “noncitizen” in government communication.
On Feb. 16, Axios and BuzzFeed News reported on a staff memo that addressed the change. Instead of “alien,” “illegal alien” or “undocumented alien,” officials are now being asked to use terms like “undocumented noncitizen” or “undocumented individual.”
The decision to discourage the use of “alien” is part of a larger effort to exhibit “more inclusive language in the agency’s outreach efforts, internal documents and in overall communication with stakeholders, partners and the general public,” according to the memo.
The memo also outlined other language changes, such as opting to use the terms “integration or civic integration” over “assimilation.”
President Joe Biden’s immigration bill also asks for the removal of the word “alien” from U.S. immigration laws, NBC News reported.
“The term ‘alien’ is used as a dehumanizing slur and should be removed from the language in our statutes,” U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, told NBC News following news of the phrase being dropped. “This change might seem symbolic, but it’s an important step to restore humanity after years of demonization.”
Castro and other congressional members have fought to have the word “alien” removed from federal law for years. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus tweeted about it in 2019, writing, “‘Illegal alien’ is an outdated term that is now used as a xenophobic slur.”:
Reminder: “Illegal alien” is an outdated term that is now used as a xenophobic slur.
— Hispanic Caucus (@HispanicCaucus) May 22, 2019
Castro has been arguing that “aliens” is outdated and offensive since at least 2015.
“When someone says aliens, we think of Martians or space aliens, not human beings,” he told NBC News in 2015. “Words matter, particularly in the context of an issue as contentious as immigration.”
“Illegal alien” has been used in federal law since 1790, but some lawmakers have tried to change the phrasing in recent years. California signed a bill into law in 2015 that axed “alien” from legal records there, Castro introduced a bill in 2019 that would have removed it at the federal level. If passed, Biden’s immigration bill would cut the word from the Immigration and Nationality Act.