Immigration Newspeak II — USCIS Edition

By Robert Law on February 16, 2021

[This page has been updated to include links to the USCIS memo.]

As I previously wrote, open borders advocates vehemently oppose the use of precise legal terms found in U.S. immigration law. The recent "dehumanizing" strawman term is "alien", which is defined in statute at section 101(a)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as: "The term 'alien' means any person not a citizen or national of the United States." The Biden administration particularly despises the term and devotes an entire section of its mass amnesty bill to replace "alien" with "noncitizen" throughout the INA. While this legislative change is silly and unnecessary, if it becomes law then so be it, that is the proper way of making change.

However, Biden's deputies at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have taken it upon themselves to preemptively trash statutory language in favor of the activists' preferred lingo. Unexpectedly, the first change occurred at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) where agents were ordered to discontinue using "alien" and "illegal alien" and instead use "undocumented noncitizen" or "undocumented individual". Further exposing the absurdity of this linguistic gymnastics, ICE agents were ordered to replace "aslyee" with "asylum-seeker". When I worked at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the term "asylee" was largely understood to mean an alien who had established eligibility for asylum. Under the Biden "newspeak", legitimate asylees have now been demoted in reference to speculative asylum seekers. DHS justified this change as "an effort to align with current guidance and to ensure consistency in reporting". But, as my colleague Art Arthur pointed out, the term "noncitizen" inherently defines someone by what he or she is not — a citizen.

Alas, this illogical scrubbing of technical language has reached my former agency. As first reported by Axios (and confirmed by my sources), USCIS staff received a memo February 16 — dated February 12 — with the subject "Terminology Changes". (See the two pages of the memo here and here.) Citing the Biden-backed mass amnesty bill that has still not formally been introduced in either chamber of Congress, the memo says "the Biden Administration provides direction on the preferred use of immigration-related terminology within the federal government" and includes a table of previously used terms and the Biden-approved replacements. On the outs are "alien", "illegal alien", and "assimilation", which are replaced with "noncitizen", "undocumented noncitizen or undocumented individual", and "integration, civic integration". Curiously, the table also lists "undocumented alien" as a previously used term (to be replaced by the same terms acceptable in place of "illegal alien") yet this term was never used in my four years at the agency because it is an inaccurate term made up by amnesty advocates.

Un-ironically, the memo contradicts itself by saying the guidance "does not affect legal, policy or other operational documents, including forms, where using terms (i.e., applicant, petitioner, etc.) as defined by the INA would be the most appropriate." In the table replacing "alien" with "noncitizen" there is an associated footnote that reads, "Use noncitizen except when citing statute or regulation, or in a Form I-862, Notice to Appear, or Form I-863, Notice of Referral to Immigration Judge." Translation: This cringe-worthy effort is a messaging gimmick.

At a time when USCIS is continuing to struggle financially and has record-level backlogs, posturing by the political appointees at the agency demonstrates a clear disconnect from the serious issues the agency needs to address. At the risk of embarrassing the Biden political appointees at USCIS, I do wonder if they are aware that the "A" in "A-Number" (the unique personal identifier assigned for immigration benefits) and "A-File" (individual files identified by the A-Number) stands for "alien". Has the USCIS Office of the Chief Financial Officer calculated the time and money it will take to replace "A-Files" with (presumably) "NC-Numbers" and "NC-Files"? How about a complete overhaul of the USCIS website? Even if the answer is yes, which I doubt, what a waste of resources.

If you believe the memo, the terminology changes are essential for "the interest of effective communication" and "designed to encourage the use of more inclusive language." I can think of nothing more ineffective than requiring USCIS staff, the media, and the public to maintain a cheat sheet of terms in order to communicate and understand what is being discussed. And, again, who exactly is "excluded" by statutory term "alien"? The memo, unsurprisingly, is silent on that point.