On Monday, the Biden administration sent a memo to the heads of Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement ordering them to cease using immigration terms such as “illegal alien”, “assimilation”, “alienage”. The memo provides alternative terms for the new forbidden ones.

“Illegal alien” is to be replaced with “noncitizen”, “migrant”, while “undocumented alien” is to be replaced with “undocumented noncitizen”. The recommended new word for “assimilation” is “integration” or “civil integration”, among other suggested replacement terms.

The apparent goal of the new order is to create and promote more ‘inclusive’ language, particularly those terms that were commonly used during the Trump era. This memo was released at the same time as another memo which has banned the use of ‘Wuhan virus’ and ‘Chinese virus’ in an attempt to further eliminate the terminology used by Trump during his time in office.

While the definition of ‘illegal alien’ is “a foreign person who is living in a country without having official permission to live there”, advocates for these new standards have criticized the newly banned words as hate speech, inhumane and anti-immigrant. Therefore, these terms are now deemed negative and offensive.

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CBP and ICE agents will regularly use terms such as “illegal aliens” to refer to immigrants at the border, specifically in press releases and public communications. These agencies are used to set a nationwide example for the rhetoric used to describe illegal immigrants, and now the White House is stepping in to limit and control the way they refer to illegal immigrants to try and sway public opinion surrounding immigration and immigration policy.

A senior official at CBP, Troy Miller, 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.”


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