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U.S. immigration agencies drop use of terms like "illegal alien" and "assimilation"

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The leaders of the two U.S. immigration enforcement agencies on Monday directed staff to use words like "noncitizen" and "integration" instead of "alien" and "assimilation" as part of a Biden administration effort to discard immigration terms viewed as dehumanizing, according to memos obtained by CBS News.

Troy Miller and Tae Johnson, the interim heads of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), issued separate memos outlining new guidelines governing the use of certain immigration terms in internal and external communications, like public statements. 

The memos instruct ICE and CBP employees to use "migrant" or "noncitizen" instead of "alien." The latter term is found in U.S. law, where it is used to refer to a wide-ranging group of immigrants, from those without legal permission to be in the country, to green card holders. Advocates have long derided the term, saying it has contributed to the dehumanization of immigrants.

Rather than using "undocumented alien" or "illegal alien," the directives say employees should use terms like "undocumented noncitizen," "undocumented individual" or "migrant." In lieu of "alienage," CBP and ICE employees should use "noncitizenship," the memos said.

The orders, which were first reported by The Washington Post, also direct staff to discontinue the use of "assimilation," which critics say connotes the outright rejection of immigrants' culture and heritage. ICE and CBP employees were instructed on Monday to refer to the process as "integration."

The objective, the CBP and ICE leaders said, is to promote "inclusive language" that reflects the Biden administration's preferred immigration lexicon. Miller, the top CBP official, said his agency sets a "tone and example for our country and partners across the world."

"We enforce our nation's laws while also maintaining the dignity of every individual with whom we interact," Miller wrote in his memo. "The words we use matter and will serve to further confer that dignity to those in our custody."

Johnson, the head of ICE, echoed Miller's sentiment, calling his agency an "essential steward of a more secure and humane immigration system."

"The way that we choose to communicate is critical to enforcing our nation's laws while respecting the humanity and dignity of those individuals with whom we interact," Johnson said.

The immigration bill President Biden sent to Congress, apart from legalizing millions of immigrants living in the U.S. without authorization, would remove the term "alien" from U.S. laws and replace it with noncitizen. 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) employees received similar guidance on terminology earlier this year. They have also been asked to help create a new agency mission statement, which the Trump administration changed in 2018 to remove the phrase "nation of immigrants."  

ICE is in charge of immigration detention, deportations and arrests in the interior of the country. CBP, on the other hand, intercepts and detains migrants and asylum-seekers along U.S. borders.

While officials at the Department of Homeland Security, USCIS and ICE have generally avoided using "alien" in public documents since Mr. Biden's inauguration, CBP has continued to issue press releases that include the term or variations of it. Border Patrol officials also frequently use the term on social media.

Ed O'Kefee contributed to this report.

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