Recently, the Department of Justice prohibited U.S. Attorney’s offices around the country from using the term “undocumented” immigrants, and instead, ordered them to use the term “illegal alien,” according to an agency-wide email obtained by CNN.
As CNN’s Chris Cuomo remarked, it may be the legal term in the law, but the fact is that the term “undocumented” is simply not divisive enough for the Trump administration, whose MO is stirring up as much hatred and anti-immigrant sentiment as possible to continue advancing their agenda.
“The U.S. Attorneys are told to use the back-handed, legalese slur of ‘alien,’ as in ‘illegal alien,’” Cuomo said. “…Why don’t they want to say ‘undocumented?’ Too innocuous, not harsh enough. That wording was important enough for the Justice Department to send an agency-wide email.”
The White House’s insistence that the term “illegal alien” be used is an obvious testament to their anti-immigrant ambitions. It is well known that the term is legally defined in federal law, but the question is one of humanity. If we call human beings “illegal,” we make it more difficult for the public at-large to understand their plight, while instilling fear and anxiety in immigrants.
While news media like CNN have made conscious efforts to curb their use of the term “illegal immigrant,” not long ago, the practice was commonplace.
Pretty shocked to come across this 2015 headline in the @washingtonpost, and not on even on an opinion piece. The language used around these issues matters, folks https://t.co/vDKljSnorO
— Felipe De La Hoz 📰 (@FelipeDLH) August 14, 2018
In 2015, the Washington Post’s headline of “For illegal immigrants with babies, the anchor pulls in many directions” draws a clear parallel to the slur “anchor babies.” The phrase is not only in bad taste, but it also undermines an immigrant’s essential right to a livelihood and personhood.
It was only in 2013 that the Associated Press Stylebook — the reference text for proper style and language used by journalists everywhere — decided to strike the use of the term “illegal immigrants.”
In the era of Trump, we should be especially mindful of the language we use when we refer to immigrants, considering that they are under even more intense scrutiny and duress than ever before in recent history.