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Immigration Reform News: Rep. Joaquin Castro's Bill Strikes 'Alien' Immigrant From Federal Law

First Posted: Oct 22, 2015 12:50 PM EDT

Immigrant-rights advocates have long criticized the terms "illegal" and “alien” immigrant, and one congressman is taking the lead, on a federal level, against the "offensive and inflammatory" language toward immigrants.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, introduced the "Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Expression (CHANGE) Act" (H.R. 3785) on Oct. 21. Castro's legislation would have the U.S. code and federal agencies remove the term "alien" from its materials and documents.

Castro's bill, by federal law, would change "alien" to "foreign national." Furthermore, "illegal alien" would be eliminated from federal law and be replaced with "undocumented foreign national." If passed, the bill would also effect the Executive Branch, as it, too, would refrain from using the terms "alien" and "illegal alien." Based on existing language, the term "alien" is identified for individuals who are not U.S. citizens or nationals.

"America is a nation of immigrants, yet our federal government continues to use terms that dehumanize and ostracize those in our society who happen to have been born elsewhere," Castro said in a statement. "Regardless of status, immigrants to our nation are first and foremost human beings. Removing the term 'alien' from our federal laws shows respect to our shared heritage and to the hundreds of millions of descendants of immigrants who call America home."

According to Castro, "alien" has been used since the Nationalization Act of 1790. Although the 1790 act referred to an "alien" being "a free white person," Castro said the term has since taken a "highly" negative tone.

"Words matter, particularly in the context of an issue as contentious as immigration. Discontinuing our use of the term 'alien' will help lessen the prejudice and vitriol that for too long have poisoned our nation's discussions around immigration reform. The recognition of immigrants' personhood in our laws should bring civility to and prompt progress in our efforts to fix America's broken immigration system," added Castro.

A call to revise or strike certain terms from federal law is not unfamiliar. With S. 2367, the "21st Century Language Act of 2012" removed the term "lunatic" from federal law. In 2010, S. 2781, known as "Rosa's Law," was signed, which replaced "mentally retarded" with "intellectual disabilities."

The League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Immigration Forum have issued their support for Castro's legislation. Since its introduction, H.R. 3785 has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

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