Some states drop ‘dehumanizing” terms for immigrants


AUSTIN (Texas) — Luz Rivas recalled seeing “alien” written on her mother’s residency card when she was a child.

It was clear that her mother wasn’t yet a citizen of America, according to the government. However, it meant that her mother was not yet a citizen of the U.S. They were naturalized, but it did not mean that the family was included.

Rivas, now a California Assemblywoman, stated that she wants other children of immigrants to feel the same way as I felt when they saw the term “alien”.

The Democratic lawmaker tried to retire this term and this year she authored , which was signed into law. It replaces the use “alien” within state statutes with terms such as “noncitizen or “immigrant” because of , a similar shift made earlier in the year by the Biden administration.

According to immigrant-rights organizations and immigrants, the term is considered dehumanizing by many and can be harmful for immigration policy.

As the number of migrants crossing the border from Mexico grew, the word was a hot topic in many states. This led to fierce opposition by Republican lawmakers and governors to Biden’s administration policies.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least seven states have considered eliminating “illegal” and “alien” from state statutes in this year’s legislative session. They also proposed replacing them with descriptions like “undocumented and “noncitizen”.

Only California and Colorado were the only states to make the change.

Rivas stated that she wanted all Californians who contribute to society, small-business owners, and those who work hard to feel like they are part California communities.

Julie Gonzales, a state senator from Colorado, co-sponsored the Colorado law. She stated during a hearing that terms such as “illegal”, when used to describe immigrants, were “dehumanizing” and “derogatory”. Gonzales stated that the legislation was intended to eliminate the one place in Colorado law where “illegal alien” was used to refer to people who are illegally in the U.S.

She said that the language was offensive to many people. “And some of that reasoning is really rooted into the idea that while a person may commit an illegal act it is not possible for them to be illegal human beings.”

The use of “alien” in the description of people who aren’t U.S. citizens has been around for a long time, going back to George Washington’s first naturalization law. Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 in fear of war with France. These acts sought to stop political subversion.

It is not common for people to accept that changing the government’s long-standing terminology about immigration is necessary or desirable.

Sage Naumann, spokesperson for the Colorado Senate Republicans, said the Democratic-controlled Legislature should be spending its time on matters of deeper importance to residents, such as taking steps to fight inflation, tackle crime and improve education.

Naumann stated that he was skeptical of the “average Coloradan or American” caring about semi-controversial terms in state statutes.

After its policy change, the Biden administration was also subject to some criticism.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection instructed employees in April to refrain from using the term “alien” within internal communications and to use “noncitizen or “migrant” instead. “Illegal alien,” too, was also out and will be replaced with descriptions like “undocumented citizen.”

Troy Miller, acting Commissioner, wrote to Border Patrol employees, “We enforce our nation’s laws while also maintaining dignity of each individual with whom we interact.” “The words that we use are important and will further confer dignity on those in our custody.”

Rodney Scott, the Border Patrol Chief, objected to the edict. He wrote to other members of the agency that it contradicted criminal statute language — though Miller made an exception for legal documentation — and plunged them into a partisan discussion. Scott, a Trump-era appointee refused to sign the order. He believes that his outspokenness regarding this and other issues led to his resignation in June.

Scott stated in an interview that “To amend the law is fine but until then you’re really politicizing this mission.”

The Associated Press did an analysis and found that over a dozen states still use “illegal” or “alien” when referring to immigrants in their statutes. Texas is one of them. A legislative effort to change terminology was made by Texas this year, but it failed to receive a hearing before Texas House.

Art Fierro (Democrat), stated that he had expected “kickback” from the state rep when he proposed the change. After committee discussions, he stated that to his surprise, both sides saw the change as an attempt to use more “dignified and respectful” terms. He stated that he proposed the change because he felt that the original terms were unfair to people who are trying to get through the immigration process.

Fierro stated that he will introduce a new bill to replace these terms in the state’s next regular legislative session in 2023.

He said, “We are trying to treat people humanely.”

Rosalidia Dardon has personal experience of why language around immigration is so important.

After fleeing violence and persecution in El Salvador, she spent 16 months in an immigration center in California. She finally arrived in Texas in 2016 to find refugee homes. Although she was determined to find work while she sought asylum, her protected status had expired and her work visa had been cancelled.

Dardon, 54, blames Dardon’s ankle monitor and the description of illegal immigrants she was required to wear for a job hunt marked by rejection after rejection.

A single moment is etched in her memories.

Dardon said in Spanish to the AP, “I won’t give you a position because you’re a criminal”, repeating what a Texas hiring manager had told her.

Dardon, whose case regarding immigration remains pending, said that he would question God and myself why an ankle monitor was given to him. This country would fall if it didn’t have Latinos. We should be treated better.