McALLEN, Texas — Enter any federal immigration court in the United States and defendants will be referred to by their nine-digit Alien Registration Number. Or attend any press conference held by U.S. Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security, or Customs and Border Protection officials and the term “alien” is sure to be repeated multiple times.
The word “alien” is the legal government term for someone who enters the United States without proper documentation. But it has long been considered derogatory and demeaning toward immigrants.
And like lingo that decades ago obliterated a racial slur from our lexicon in reference to African-Americans, at least one congressman now says the time has come to rid our government permanently of the “A-word.”
“Words matter. It’s vital that we respect the dignity of immigrants fleeing violence and prosecution in our language. The words ‘alien’ and ‘illegal alien’ work to demonize and dehumanize the migrant community. They should have no place in our government’s description of human beings,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said in a news release.
Last week, Castro filed legislation in Congress called the CHANGE Act, which would eliminate the terms “alien” and “illegal alien” from the Immigration and Nationality Act. It would instead replace these words with the terms “foreign national” and “undocumented foreign national,” respectively.
“Immigrants come to our borders in good faith and work hard for the opportunity to achieve a better life for themselves and their family. Eliminating this language from government expression puts us one step closer to preserving their dignity and ensuring their safety,” said Castro, who is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
On social media, however, Castro’s proposal unleashed a flurry of comments, many opposed. “Get rid of all ILLEGAL ALIENS and there will be no need to use the term,” one person tweeted. Another wrote it was the “stupidest thing” they had heard; someone proposed replacing the term with “citizens” and “non-citizens.” While another tweeted: “Do something that really helps, please.”