(WASHINGTON) — U.S. immigration enforcement agencies will no longer use the term “illegal alien” in official communications to refer to immigrants in the country, according to two federal government memos distributed on Monday and obtained by ABC News.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as Customs and Border Protection will discontinue the use of words “alien,” “illegal alien,” and “assimilation” from internal policy documents and communications with the public.
“In an effort to rebuild public trust and reshape our agency’s image, ICE will make efforts to avoid using terminology that might be perceived by others as offensive or otherwise disparaging,” ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson said in an email to employees announcing the change.
A similar memo was sent out by the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Both documents order an immediate change the agencies’ lexicons.
Immigrant advocates have long condemned the use of the terms as a dehumanizing effort to draw a distinction between immigrants without the means to explore legal avenues of migration.
“Words matter, and we need to continue to take steps to make sure our policies and our language reflects recognize the vital role of immigrants and immigration to our families, communities and economy,” said Peter Boogaard, Communications Director at FWD.us.
Changing agency language in this way marks a sharp departure from the practices of the Trump administration, which frequently leveraged controversial rhetoric from the campaign trail into enforcement agency communications, including those to the public.
“We have people coming into the country or trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them, but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” President Trump said during a White House meeting in May 2018. “These aren’t people. These are animals.”
Trump’s rhetoric coincided with the implementation of the “zero tolerance” policy that resulted in forced family separations on a mass scale by the government and continued use of anti-immigrant rhetoric.
One CBP press release in May 2018 titled, “One bust leads to another” involved the discovery of 70 potential human trafficking victims who the agency referred to as “illegal aliens,” while associating their apprehension with the seizure of 320 pounds of marijuana.
It did not appear that any of the 70 were involved in the marijuana smuggling, based on the press release. Little information on the circumstances of the apprehended individuals was revealed aside from their nationalities.
A blurred photo of the immigrants in a literal huddled mass was provided by the agency at the time.
Even still, the changes brought Monday were far from universally admired.
Ken Cuccinelli, the former second-in-command at the Department of Homeland Security during the Trump administration, called it part of an “effort to redefine truth itself.”
The memos were first reported by The Washington Post.
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