They’re ‘noncitizens’ not ‘aliens,’ Biden administration says

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'Words matter & that’s a signal that there is a different view now' advocates say

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A-L-I-E-N spells a five-letter word that has been part of the U.S. government’s lexicon since 1798 and migrant advocates say they want it forever retired and are encouraged by a push from the new administration to do so.

Replacing it with the word “noncitizen” has been proposed as part of the President Joe Biden’s sweeping immigration overhaul bill that was sent to Congress this week under the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021.

If passed by Congress, the word “alien” would no longer be the official government term for a person who is not a citizen or national of the United States.

For decades, migrant advocates have said the term is demeaning and connotes negative images of extraterrestrial beings with three eyes, two heads and green skin.

In the bill that Biden sent to Congress just hours after taking office on Wednesday, he wrote that the new administration “further recognizes America as a nation of immigrants by changing the word ‘alien’ to ‘noncitizen’ in our immigration laws.”

“Alien is a tainted word that dehumanizes a person, a certain class of people,” Texas Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a Democrat from McAllen, told Border Report on Friday. “‘Noncitizen’ is a much more accurate word that describes the actual status of a person.”

Alien is a tainted word that dehumanizes a person.”

Texas State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen

“Words matter and that’s a signal that there is a different view now than under the prior administration of migration. That doesn’t mean everything is solved but it is a very encouraging first-step,” said Thomas Cartwright, a retired financial services executive from Columbus, Ohio, who is part of the migrant advocacy group Witness at the Border.

Others seems to agree, according to an informal social media poll by Border Report.

It’s “more respectable. Not rude. The term alien, well, seems very alienating and disrespectful,” one man wrote on Twitter.

“Retire the terms ‘alien’ and also ‘illegals.’ Derogatory terms with the intent to demean,” another man wrote.

“It carries negative connotations and stirs feelings of hate and fear in people’s minds,” another man tweeted.

But eradicating the word from the government’s lexicon won’t be easy.

The term “alien” is embedded into the Immigration and Nationality Act and dates back to 1798, when it was used in the Alien and Sedition Acts.

“Alien” is what a noncitizen is officially known by in all immigration court documents — their nine-digit AA number, which stands for Alien Registration Number.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, proposed eliminating it in 2015 in the Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Express (CHANGE) Act. He wanted the term “foreign national: to replace “alien.”

Castro’s bill never made it out of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of the Southern District of Texas wrote in his decision in the famed case Texas vs. U.S., regarding Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program: “The Court uses the phrases ‘illegal immigrant’ and ‘illegal alien’ interchangeably. The word ‘immigrant’ is not used in the manner in which it is defined in Title 8 of the United States Code unless it is so designated. The Court also understands that there is a certain segment of the population that finds the phrase ‘illegal alien’ offensive. The Court uses this term because it is the term used by the Supreme Court in its latest pronouncement pertaining to this area of the law. See Arizona v. United States, 132 S. Ct. 2492, 2497 (2012).”

This photo by CBP officials shows a stash house bust on Jan. 20 in Laredo, Texas. Chief Patrol Agent Matthew Hudak called those apprehended “aliens.” (Courtesy Photo)

Since Wednesday, there has been a subtle yet noticeable shift in the reduction of the use of the term “alien” in news releases and documents sent by officials with the Department of Homeland Security.

In a memo sent Wednesday by new Acting DHS Secretary Pekoske on the Biden administration’s new orders to halt the deportation of certain migrants for the next 100 days, he used the term “noncitizen” but put a footnote with it explaining: “‘Noncitizen’ as used in this memorandum does not include noncitizen nationals of the United
States.”

But as the days go on, more news releases do seem to be referring to apprehended migrants as “individuals,” like in a Jan. 21 news release sent by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to announce a stash house bust in Laredo, Texas.

But in a two-sentence quote in the news release attributable to Chief Patrol Agent Matthew Hudak, he said “alien” twice.

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