The importance of language: the term “alien” in politics

Joe Biden’s administration orders immigration officials to remove “alien” and “illegal alien” from official communications and use “non-citizen” instead to avoid “dehumanizing language.”

This is a sharp change from Donald Trump’s harsh attitude towards those crossing over the border into the U.S.

The former president and his administration often referred to undocumented immigrants as “illegal aliens” and classified border crossing as an “invasion.” In the U.S. regulations, the term “alien” was used to describe any individual within the country’s borders who was not a U.S. citizen. Other terms which have been amended include using “undocumented noncitizen” or “undocumented individual” and using “integration or civic integration” instead of “assimilation.”

This change shows how language plays a key role in everyday life, especially in politics. The term “alien” was being used as a dehumanising slur to refer to immigrants, which should be removed from the language in statutes, according to Biden. Although the change may have been a simple symbolic political strategy, it is an important step to restore humanity after years of demonization of immigrants.

The dangers of using terms such as “aliens” to refer to people come as dehumanisation fuels acts of violence, human rights violations, and even genocides. It takes away the value of a group of people, creating a sense of exclusion and targeting groups based on their identity. This is when violations against human nature are normalised, as groups such as immigrants are classified to be “less than” others. The act of dehumanizing always starts with language, as seen throughout history. During the Holocaust, Jews were referred to as “subhuman” and Serbs called Bosnians “aliens.”

Biden’s choice to remove “alien” from official communication is a step towards integrating immigrants into the U.S., breaking from the sense of “less than”. This illustrates the power that language has over us and the importance of always using conscious language.

Photo by Ronile from Pixabay 

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