CNN’s Catherine Shoichet reported that in his first full day in office, President Biden made it known that he wants to remove the insensate word “alien” from the country’s immigration laws. The new term would be “noncitizen.” Words matter, just as how we treat others matters. How we treat noncitizens says a lot about who we are as a nation, although many on the right don’t consider treating others with dignity and respect to be essential values. We are, in fact, a nation of immigrants; most of us don’t have roots here that go back terribly far. We’re also a nation built on largely stolen land, so it’s quite disingenuous to call those who come here seeking better situations “illegal aliens.”
The use of “noncitizen” is inclusive and humane. No matter where one stands on immigration issues, one thing we should be able to agree on is empathetic, compassionate terminology. Of course, we’ve just emerged from four heinous years of anti-immigrant policies and inappropriate rhetoric used as weapons against noncitizens, so one can just imagine the eye-rolling in right-wing circles. But regardless of what the backwards Republicans think, we’d do right to move ahead with this change in how we refer to noncitizens.
We already see more civil discourse with the new administration, which will no doubt be a competent and benevolent one. The theocrats and right-wing politicians will continue to be uncivil and coarse in their behaviors, but those of us on the left can be better than that. We don’t need to dehumanize noncitizens, and it certainly takes little effort to change our heretofore callous wording.