Monday, April 19, 2021

More inclusive language for immigrants at ICE, CBP

Washington Post is reporting that the White House has ordered U.S. immigration enforcement agencies such as ICE and CBP to stop using terms such as "alien," "illegal alien" and "assimilation" when referring to immigrants in the United States. Instead, government agencies are required to use the terms "noncitizen" or migrant," "undocumented," and "integration" respectively. The changes reflect a proposal in the Citizenship Act of 2021 announced by the Biden administration on his first day in office that vows to promote "dignity" in the immigation system and to change the culture in the agencies that administer it.

The language change is detailed in memos sent to agency department heads. A prior memo in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services contained a similar directive.  CBP’s top official, Troy Miller, said in his memo:

“As the nation’s premier law enforcement agency, we set a tone and example for our country and partners across the world... 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 offending terms were widely used in the Trump administration. They are also used in the federal immigration statute, the Immigration and Nationality Act. Officials acknowledge that government officials may still need to use the terms in “legal or operational documents” -- such as when filling out required forms -- unless and until the statutory language is changed. Some such changes have been seen at the state and local level, including a California state labor law (2015) that bans the use of the term "alien" in the labor code and a proposed bill to do the same for state laws touching on hosuing, education, natural resources, and education. Some state judges use it in rulings and others do not.

ImmigrationProf blogger and UC Davis Dean Kevin Johnson has described the history and significance of these terms in prior writing (and here), saying that the dehumanizing language rationalizes mistreatment of immigrants.


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