Rep. Joaquin Castro Introduces Legislation to Change the Term Alien in Federal Law
Oct. 21, 2015
Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) introduced legislation to remove offensive and inflammatory language characterizing immigrants as “aliens” from federal law. The Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Expression (CHANGE) Act changes this terminology in U.S. code and federal agencies’ materials and documentation.
“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,” said Rep. Castro. “Regardless of status, immigrants to our nation are first and foremost human beings. 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.”
Specifically, the CHANGE Act:
- Changes the term “alien” in federal law to the term “foreign national”
- Strikes the term “illegal alien” from federal law and replaces it with the term “undocumented foreign national”
- Ensures all Executive Branch agencies do not use the term “alien” and “illegal alien” in signage and literature
Current law uses the term “alien” to describe a person who is not a citizen or national of the United States. This language has been included in U.S. code since the Naturalization Act of 1790. Since that time though, the term has taken on a highly negative connotation.
Precedent exists for this type of terminology reform. For example, the law has been changed to strike terms such as “lunatic” (21st Century Language Act) and “mentally retarded” (Rosa’s Law) from statute.
“Words matter, particularly in the context of an issue as contentious as immigration,” added Rep. Castro. “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. 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.”
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the National Immigration Forum have offered their support for the CHANGE Act.