Bill Seeks to Change Legal Terminology for Noncitizens

By Jamie Gorton

In October, Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas proposed a bill called the Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Expression (CHANGE) Act, which intends to remove the term “alien” from federal immigration law. The bill seeks to eliminate the use of derogatory terminology in U.S. code, material, and documentation of noncitizens.

The act claims that the term alien and its connotations conflict with the country’s proclamation of being a melting pot, or a country established by and grown through immigration. It says that calling a noncitizen an alien emphasizes the “otherness” of immigrants and suggests that they do not belong in the United States, which, the bill proclaims, contradicts the country’s historical growth through immigration.

The bill seeks to replace the term “alien” with “foreign national” and replace the term “illegal alien” with “undocumented foreign national” to encourage more neutral language. Although the word alien has been a term of art used in the immigration law for centuries, changing the terms we use to describe immigrants in America can help make the immigration system easier to understand and more helpful to all Americans and their families.

I welcome this prospective change. Obviously, our immigration system requires much more work than just changing labels. Our office in Malden, Massachusetts is located in the second-most diverse city in the state, with our neighbors and friends in Malden coming from every continent and dozens of countries. Our clients come from China, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, East Africa, West Africa, Canada, Mexico, and Australia. No matter where our clients and neighbors are from, they deserve to be treated with respect and designated with respectful terms accordingly.

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