News & Politics

Is it Offensive to Illegal Aliens to Refer to Them as 'Illegal Alien'?

AP Photo/Gregory Bull

Two U.S. states — California and Colorado — have dropped the “demeaning” term “illegal alien” from the law, and several other states are considering the move.

Is it really “demeaning” to someone who is currently in this country without legal documentation to refer to them as an “illegal alien”? A search for a poll of illegal aliens regarding their feelings about being called “illegal aliens” reveals that such a poll probably doesn’t exist. So why is the main argument against the use of the term “illegal alien” that it hurts the feelings of illegal aliens? We’re constantly being told that we should get rid of the term because it hurts the feelings of illegal aliens. Perhaps we should ask advocates making that argument to put up or shut up.

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If you’re looking for reason and logic on this issue, those elements left the building a long time ago.


State Sen. Julie Gonzales, who co-sponsored the new Colorado law, said during a legislative committee hearing that words such as “illegal” were “dehumanizing and derogatory” when applied to immigrants. Gonzales said the legislation aimed to remove the only place in Colorado statute where “illegal alien” was used to describe people living in the U.S. illegally.

“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.”

According to U.S. law — a law that Joe Biden wants to change — people here without legal documentation are not “immigrants.” They are “illegal aliens.” The proponents of changing that term use the argument that “words matter.” They most certainly do. And that’s why there must be a sharp dividing line in words and meaning between those people entering the United States, or looking to enter the United States, who come here legally after having received all necessary documents to travel freely and those who do not.

Using “alien” to describe those who are not U.S. citizens has a long history, dating to the nation’s first naturalization law, passed while George Washington was president. Fearing a war with France, Congress also passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, which sought to suppress political subversion.

Changing the long-standing government terminology around immigration is not universally accepted as necessary or desirable.

“We enforce our nation’s laws while also maintaining the dignity of every individual with whom we interact,” Troy Miller, acting commissioner, wrote to employees of the Border Patrol. “The words we use matter and will serve to further confer that dignity to those in our custody.”

Substituting “undocumented” or “noncitizen” for “illegal alien” is just another example of the left’s war on language. For the hard left, language is frangible — something to be massaged, manipulated, or mangled to better obscure meaning. It’s the exact opposite of what language is supposed to do: illuminate and communicate.

New York City has passed a law making it a criminal act to call someone an “illegal alien” with the intent to “demean.” The language police will fine you up to $250,000 if you don’t obey.