December 2, 2021
By Brian Lonergan
The old adage that “actions speak louder than words” may be true, but the right words applied to the right situation can lead to actions that would otherwise not be taken.
We are seeing this in dramatic fashion in our current border crisis, which now appears to be the realized dream of Barack Obama when he spoke about “fundamentally transforming the United States of America” 13 years ago. We as a nation are undeniably transforming, and most Americans would argue for the worse. The wheels of that transformation have been lubricated by the enabling language of the anti-borders Left.
The strategy behind this plan has become evident. It starts with a proliferation of “acceptable” language by our corporate media. The federal government, when under the control of the right people, enacts a series of directives to the bureaucracy mandating that language. State and local governments with the right composition of lawmakers do their part to pass supportive legislation. All those efforts have by now so normalized said language to the broader American culture that real pressure can then be applied to members of the U.S. Congress to write such language into federal law.
The dots can be connected fairly easily. The Associated Press (AP) stylebook, the widely-followed guide for word choice in journalism, had long recommended the term “illegal alien.” That changed in 2013—not coincidentally at the same time the “Gang of Eight” in the Senate was proposing a sweeping immigration overhaul—when the AP called on members of the press to stop using the term when referring to a person in the country illegally. Today city newspapers and television news programs have been swept clean of any reference to illegal aliens in their reporting.
Then-U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Acting Director Tracy Renaud signed a memo in February urging “more inclusive language in the agency’s outreach efforts, internal documents and in overall communication with stakeholders, partners, and general public.” What did Acting Director Renaud define as “more inclusive language?” The term “illegal alien” should be replaced with “undocumented noncitizen” or “undocumented individual.” Instead of “assimilation,” USCIS officials should use “integration or civic integration.”
Now come reports that state representatives are making a full-court press with bills that follow the lead of USCIS and drop terms like “illegal alien” for language that is not “dehumanizing.” Colorado State Sen. Julie Gonzalez, co-sponsor of one such bill, argued for the eradication of language currently in state laws.
“That language has been offensive for many people,” she said. “And some of the rationale behind that is really rooted in this idea that a person can certainly commit an illegal act, but no human being themselves is illegal.”
The “no human being is illegal” bumper sticker line is both ridiculous and meant to shame anyone who refuses to get on the anti-borders bandwagon. To refer to someone as an illegal alien is a reference to their legal status, nothing more.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), our nation’s immigration 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.
The term “alien” has been used in other federal laws, such as when Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to counter political subversion. While the merits of that law have long been subject to debate, no one complained at the time that such language was “dehumanizing” to those who might commit sedition against the country.
Activists like State Sen. Gonzales acknowledge that those here illegally have committed illegal acts, so why are we supposed to be so worried about hurting the feelings of those who are breaking our laws? A similar crusade has been launched to stop using the term “felon” in favor of “person without lawful status.” These are not the goals of honorable people looking to make our country better.
With their plan well underway, the next and final step will be a congressional rewrite of the INA. The Biden White House is doing its part with the introduction of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which calls for “changing the word ‘alien’ to ‘noncitizen’ in our immigration laws.”
At a time when tens of thousands of migrants are massing on our border and demanding entry, the effort to soften our language is the political equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns. While it is certainly absurd, we should not discount the radical agenda and destructive consequences behind it.
Brian Lonergan is director of communications 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: Brian Lonergan, Why Is It So Important Not to Offend Those Breaking Our Laws?, American Greatness, December 2, 2021.
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