Article: Congress looks to remove ‘illegal alien’ from federal use
October 23, 2019Shahid Haque
WASHINGTON – Just three years ago, the words “oriental” and “negro” were removed from federal laws and regulations, after a bill to ban the offensive words unanimously passed Congress.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York, pushed the legislation through, under the premise that words matter, and can cause harm and division.
Another attempt to change the federal government’s vocabulary is underway, but unlike its predecessor in 2016, the bill seems far less likely to fly through Congress.
The term proposed for the chopping block is “illegal alien,” under legislation sponsored by Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas.
The phrase refers to noncitizens who are in the country without proper authorization, and fell mostly out of use with politicians until last year, when President Donald Trump amped up his use of the term to refer to all authorized immigrants.
We spoke to the Capital News Service about our thoughts on the term, which we first shared over a decade ago:
In April 2013, the Associated Press revised its guidelines to abandon “alien” and “illegal alien” in news stories and instead encouraged journalists to specify how someone entered the country and from where.
For example, an unauthorized immigrant may have been brought to the United States against their will, such as a victim of sex trafficking. Some might have come under “temporary protected status” because of turmoil in their home country, and the government later removed their protected status. And it’s estimated that about half of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. came here legally, but overstayed their visas.
“The term is a problem because you would think if someone is an illegal alien, that means they are all in the same boat,” Shahid Haque, an immigration lawyer in Montana, said, adding that “illegal alien” is overly simplistic and legally inaccurate. He also said the word can do a lot of harm in the way immigrants are treated.
“It allows characterization of a large group of people to be less entitled to compassion or dignity,” Haque said. “It allows people to dehumanize the immigrants themselves and cast their entire existence as illegal.”
“The broader the term is used, the more it’s meant to demonize immigrants and portray them as criminals,” he said.
Most immigrants aren’t criminals. Because crossing the border without authorization is a misdemeanor, but overstaying a visa is a civil infraction, a migrant’s unauthorized presence in the United States is not a criminal offense.
And the notion that immigrants are dangerous has been dashed by several studies showing both legal and illegal immigration does not lead to rising crime. While 6% of U.S. citizens are felons, only 2% of immigrants are felons.
But “criminal aliens” is an even more frequent phrase in Trump’s vocabulary than “illegal aliens.”
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