Saying ‘Illegal Alien’ is Taboo, but Being One is Fine


June 27, 2024

By Brian Lonergan

As the invasion coming through our southern border continues at a relentless pace, a rhetorical war is ramping up in the homeland to soften the language in our laws to normalize the crime of entering the country illegally.

For years the anti-borders lobby has sought to use “undocumented immigrant” instead of “illegal alien,” even though the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), our nation’s immigration law, specifically uses the latter term when referring to a person who has either illegally entered the United States or violated the terms of their admission, such as overstaying a visa.

According to illegal immigration activists, to use the term “illegal alien” is to practice otherism, an Orwellian newspeak word straight from the halls of academia that has come to mean the exclusion of people based on their perceived diversions from social norms. This is pure agitprop meant to shame opponents into submission.

This effort to enforce speech codes on immigration policy has moved beyond government into other areas of society. A sixteen-year-old high school student in North Carolina was recently suspended for using the term “illegal alien” in a question to his teacher. Through his parents, the student is suing the school board for unlawful retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment right to free speech.  

In its brief in the lawsuit, the Immigration Reform Law Institute shows that the terms “alien” and “illegal alien” are used throughout immigration law, and have precise meanings that are captured by no other terms. An “alien” is defined as a person who is neither a citizen nor a national of the United States. The new replacement term “noncitizen” being pushed by anti-borders activists is legally inaccurate.

If only our federal government and the current administration protected our border with the same zeal they employ to fight usage of the term “illegal alien,” the national security crisis at our borders would be fixed in short order.

This has not stopped state and federal governments from pandering to illegal aliens and the censorious activists who enable our current immigration problems. New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation into law that mandates the term “alien” in state statutes be replaced with the term “noncitizen” at the behest of Democratic lawmakers in Albany.  

A legislative memo attached to the bill said that the Empire State henceforth “will match the language anticipated to be in federal codes and demonstrate respect and humanity to its immigrant population.”

Notice the attempt to conflate those who broke our laws to be here with those who complied with our laws. If immigration violators not only face no consequences for their actions, but also benefit from government efforts to treat them with the utmost respect and humanity, then there is incentive, not deterrence, for more illegal entries.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a similar ban, also declaring that “alien” and “illegal alien” would no longer be used by its employees for internal or external communications.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Tracy Renaud signed a memo in February 2021 urging “more inclusive language in the agency’s outreach efforts, internal documents and in overall communication with stakeholders, partners, and general public.”

Washington is using the permanent bureaucracy to change the language of immigration. In July 2021, a White House order to the Department of Justice said that our immigration judges will “use language that is consistent with our character as a nation of opportunity and of welcome.” Put simply, immigration judges are no longer allowed to use the terms “alien” or “illegal alien” in their legal opinions.

If only our federal government and the current administration protected our border with the same zeal they employ to fight usage of the term “illegal alien,” the national security crisis at our borders would be fixed in short order. Instead, they condition Americans to accept the chaos and punish schoolchildren for using language that, while disapproved by our ruling class and their acolytes in media and education, is legally correct. 

Changing the language is meant to normalize the act of entering the country illegally and not treat it as the violation it is. Once that change is accepted by the people, we will then have an America without borders not as a result of a dramatic conquest, but of apathy and indifference throughout the land. We must see this manipulation for what it is and resist it.

Brian Lonergan is director of communications at the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) in Washington, D.C, and co-host of IRLI’s “No Border, No Country” podcast.

Also published at The Center Square, June 27, 2024. Also published at

Get Connected

Sign up for our email newsletter to stay up to date with immigration reform in the United States.

Attorneys United for a Secure America (AUSA) is a non-partisan affiliation of talented attorneys dedicated to pursuing cases that serve the national interest when it comes to immigration law.

If you are interested in joining the network, visit the AUSA website.