Under Biden, the Term ‘Illegal Alien’ May Become Illegal


December 23, 2020

By Dale Wilcox

If you agreed with President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” approach to governance, then brace yourself, as all of it could soon be subject to dismantling if Joe Biden is successful in his bid for the presidency. The changes will be of both the macro and micro variety. Some that appear minor are actually very significant. One such example is the war on language, specifically the term “illegal alien.”

“Illegal alien” has been targeted for elimination by the anti-borders Left for several years now, and that effort will kick into high gear in a Biden presidency. One of their favorite lines of attack is the mantra “no human being is illegal,” as if identifying a person’s legal status is equivalent to dehumanizing the person. There has also been much effort to classify the term as a racial slur. This is Political Correctness 101 and meant to get people thinking based on emotions, not facts.

This attack on language is a modern-day version of “newspeak” from Orwell’s 1984. Violent rioters are actually peaceful protesters. Confiscatory tax rates are “investing in our children’s future,” and illegal aliens are “undocumented immigrants.”

Not surprisingly, the push for this revisionist language is coming largely from the media. The Associated Press stylebook, the lodestar for journalist diction, had long recommended the term “illegal alien.” That changed in 2013 when the AP reversed course, calling on members of the press to stop using the term when referring to a person in the country illegally. Today one would be hard-pressed to find any reference to illegal aliens in a city newspaper or network news program.   

Upon sober analysis, the term “illegal alien” is both factually and legally correct. The fact is that many of the “undocumented” aliens illegally present in this country do have documents, just not the right ones. These documents may range from those unlawfully obtained, like social security cards or social security numbers, fraudulent drivers licenses, or other documents legally obtained such as “cedulas,” the term commonly used for matricular identification or driver documents issued by the Mexican government to its citizens in the United States, or licenses.   

The term “undocumented immigrant” is far less accurate than “illegal alien.” The term “immigrant” only applies to a person who has either legally entered the United States as a lawful permanent resident or has been adjusted to that status while in the United States. While the Left will argue that illegal aliens’ presence in the country is no crime, their entry into the country is. 

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), our nation’s immigration law, does not make reference to undocumented immigrants. Instead, the law expressly uses the term “illegal alien” 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. For example, in Title V of The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which added provisions to the INA, there are five references to “illegal alien” alone while the term “undocumented” is not mentioned once.

In his 2015 decision granting an injunction against the implementation of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen said in a footnote that “The Court also understands that there is a certain  segment of the population that finds the phrase ‘illegal alien’ offensive. The Court uses this term because it is the term used by the Supreme Court in its latest pronouncement pertaining to this area of the law.”

Indeed, the Supreme Court of the United States and every federal circuit court of appeals use the term “illegal alien” when referencing someone not lawfully present in the United States. But rather than adhere to what is factually and legally correct, anti-borders activists are working diligently to change the public’s perceptions about those who violate our laws and the movement behind it.

Biden’s team is gearing up to assume power. Whether that will happen is yet to be seen. Nonetheless, the radical Left is pushing them to implement their wish list which includes blanket amnesty, a halt to border wall construction and much more. Don’t expect much pushback, as Biden has been more than willing to appease the extremist factions of his base. A great asset to pushing this agenda through will be the gradual but steady replacement of language that is deemed unhelpful to the cause. Remember that next time you are scolded by a politician or media figure for even thinking about illegal aliens.

Dale L. Wilcox is executive director and general counsel at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of mass migration.

Also published at: Dale Wilcox, Under Biden, the Term ‘Illegal Alien’ May Become Illegal, American Greatness, December 23, 2020.

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