The characterization of an immigrant as an “alien” in government materials adds to the xenophobia in the ongoing debate about immigration, according to Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-TX).
“Words matter. The term ‘alien’ is dehumanizing and offensive, and contributes to the prejudice and xenophobia that have become a too-familiar part of the national conversation on immigration,” Gallego explained.
Gallego announced Friday that he has signed on as a co-sponsor — along with more than 50 House Democrats — to legislation that would eliminate the word “alien” from federal law and agency documents. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) first introduced the bill Wednesday, titled the Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Expression (CHANGE) Act.
The CHANGE Act would replace the term “alien” with “foreign national” and replace “illegal alien” with “undocumented foreign national” in federal materials.
“Immigrants, with or without status, are human beings and deserve to be treated with respect. The CHANGE Act will take a long overdue step in acknowledging this simple fact, and I hope it will help to change the dialogue as we move forward with efforts to fix our nation’s broken immigration system,” Gallego added.
The word “alien” has been used to refer to non-citizens for more than 220 years, beginning with he Naturalization Act of 1790. Castro’s office last week pointed to the elimination of “lunatic” and “mentally retarted” as examples of changes to long-used terminology in government.
When introducing the bill, Castro highlighted similar themes of reducing prejudice by changing the terms used to refer to immigrants.
“Discontinuing our use of the term ‘alien’ will help lessen the prejudice and vitriol that for too long have poisoned our nation’s discussions around immigration reform,” Castro sad. “The recognition of immigrants’ personhood in our laws should bring civility to and prompt progress in our efforts to fix America’s broken immigration system.”
Already this year the state of California has moved to strip the word “alien” from state government documents. In August, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation into law removing the term “alien” from the state’s labor code.