While the word “alien” has been used to refer to foreign nationals in the U.S. for more than 220 years, the term dehumanizes immigrants and should be stripped from federal law, according to Rep. Joaquin Castro (R-TX).
Castro has introduced legislation to that effect this week. His “Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Expression (CHANGE) Act” would eliminate the term “alien” from federal law and agency materials.
“America is a nation of immigrants, yet our federal government continues to use terms that dehumanize and ostracize those in our society who happen to have been born elsewhere,” Castro explained in a statement.
The Texas Democrat stressed that foreigners in the U.S. are humans, regardless of their immigration status.
“Removing the term ‘alien’ from our federal laws shows respect to our shared heritage and to the hundreds of millions of descendants of immigrants who call America home,” he said.
In particular, Castro’s bill would replace “alien” with “foreign national” and “illegal alien” with “undocumented foreign national” in federal law and executive agency documents.
“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 continued. “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.”
According to Castro’s office, the term “alien” has been used to refer to non-citizens of the U.S. since the the Naturalization Act of 1790 and while it has been the primary term for foreigners in the U.S. for over two centuries there is precedent for changing terminology in federal statues. His office pointed to the elimination of “lunatic” and “mentally retarted” as examples.
Earlier this year California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation into law removing the term “alien” from the state’s labor code.