Language is a powerful tool. Certain words carry harmful connotations, and their use has major political ramifications. In recognition of this, several states have begun changing terminology and drop the use of dehumanizing words like “alien” from state laws. The term –– dating back to the enactment of the country’s first naturalization law in 1798 –– implies an unjust idea of “otherness.” Colorado took action earlier this year, focusing on eliminating the use of “illegal alien” in public service contracts. The bill was first introduced in February of 2020 and entered law in April of 2020. California passed a similar law in September of this year. The decision echoed previous California laws from 2015 and 2016 that removed the term from state labor and education codes. In total, seven states have considered making the change, many in response to Biden’s related policy initiative. Under the Biden administration, “alien” was changed to “noncitizen” in the terminology of federal agencies, and officials have been discouraged from using the word “illegal” in reference to undocumented immigrants. Libraries and media companies have also been leading a movement towards similar changes around the country.
However, in some places, things are not moving as quickly. A similar proposal recently failed in Texas. The two states that have made these changes in language are small compared to the larger whole of the country. Furthermore, as progressive as these changes are, they must be accompanied by strong policy plans that will help immigrants in more tangible ways.
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