The Biden administration has ordered the country’s immigration enforcement agencies to stop using terms like “alien” and “illegal” to refer to migrants entering the U.S.
The new guidance was issued on Monday, in memos directed to top officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, and obtained by the Washington Post. According to the Post, the Biden administration has ordered the agencies to swap out “alien” for “noncitizen or migrant,” and “illegal” for “undocumented.”
“In response to the vision set by the Administration, ICE will ensure agency communications use the preferred terminology and inclusive language,” Acting ICE director Tae Johnson wrote in one of the memos.
The change is a necessary one, to be sure. No government agency should ever invoke the dehumanizing language Trump administration officials used to refer to undocumented immigrants. But while many things have changed under Biden’s new leadership—on his first day in office he halted construction of Trump’s border wall, ended the Muslim ban, and directed the Department of Homeland Security to strengthen protections for Dreamers—these words continue to be little more than window dressing for inhumane immigration policy.
The same day Biden issued these new mandates, White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the administration’s decision to maintain the refugee cap Trump established as president, despite caving to backlash the week before and agreeing to raise the quota by May 15. And immigration rights advocates have expressed outrage and disappointment in the administration for reopening controversial detention centers over the last few months.
Words matter, but they matter less when they’re coming out of the mouths of immigration officers who are carrying out policies that don’t acknowledge people’s humanity in the first place. The idea that ICE, for example, would seek to use “inclusive language” is a laughable contradiction in terms; the most inclusive thing ICE could do is stop existing.