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Is It Time to Remove the Word Aliens from Federal Law?



The word "alien" is peppered throughout federal law, and it has nothing to do with extraterrestrial life illegally visiting the United States.

The law uses the word to describe people who aren't citizens or nationals of America. So for example, when a human smuggler gets caught with a car full of Central Americans somewhere, they are charged with alien smuggling. Apparently, the language dates back to the Naturalization Act of 1790.

Congressman Joaquin Castro says the word has a negative connotation. 

“America is a nation of immigrants, yet our federal government continues to use terms that dehumanize and ostracize those in our society who happen to have been born elsewhere,” Castro says in a press release. “Regardless of status, immigrants to our nation are first and foremost human beings. Removing the term ‘alien’ from our federal laws shows respect to our shared heritage and to the hundreds of millions of descendants of immigrants who call America home.”

Yesterday afternoon, Castro announced he would try to legislate the word away, characterizing it as offensive and inflammatory, with the Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Expression (CHANGE) Act, which targets U.S. code and federal agencies' materials and documentations.

The act changes the word "alien" to foreign national," strikes the term "illegal alien" from federal law and replaces it with "undocumented foreign national," and ensures all executive branch agencies don'e use the term "alien" or "illegal alien" in signage and literature.

“Words matter, particularly in the context of an issue as contentious as immigration,” Castro says. “Discontinuing our use of the term ‘alien’ will help lessen the prejudice and vitriol that for too long have poisoned our nation’s discussions around immigration reform. The recognition of immigrants’ personhood in our laws should bring civility to and prompt progress in our efforts to fix America’s broken immigration system.”

According to Castro's office, there is precedent for changing language in law, like how the term "lunatic" and "mentally retarded" were struck from statutes.

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