In the midst of an immigration debate characterized by harsh words and alienation, President Biden has taken steps to change the rhetoric with which we approach the topic. Through detailed memos issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department, the Biden administration has ordered U.S. immigration agencies to replace the words “illegal alien” and “assimilation” with “undocumented noncitizen” and “integration” respectively. This applies to internal communication and external correspondence. A similar change in rhetoric has already been enacted within the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The decision, while small, still matters. The words we use influence the way we perceive ideas, things, and people. According to Troy Miller, a top official at Customs and Border Protection, “we set a tone and example for our country and partners around the world.” Respect must define our entire approach to immigration, in both action and rhetoric.