Democratic Rep. Susan Lontine says that she came up with the idea after a friend bristled at the term during a job training. “She goes: ‘Why are you using that? That’s an awful term,” Lontine recalled in an interview with The New York Times published Thursday.
Lontine’s bill would replace the “illegal alien” language with “undocumented immigrant.” Her legislation would add to an ongoing controversy over the term, which some have suggested carries a disparaging connotation.
In September, New York City’s Commission on Human Rights announced that residents could face up to $250,000 in fines if they use terms such as “illegal alien … with intent to demean, humiliate or harass a person.”
“Hate has no place here,” a tweet from the City of New York read. The city’s announcement ticked off a list of offensive ways to address immigrants — including threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), or harassing someone for their “limited English proficiency.”
The Associated Press has similarly admonished reporters for using “illegal” as a descriptor for immigrants. The wire service’s 2013 style guide was updated to read: “Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.”
Both President Trump and his former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, have used the word repeatedly. Sessions specifically directed his Justice Department not to use terms other than “illegal alien,” which he said was based in U.S. code.
“The word ‘undocumented’ is not based in US [sic] code and should not be used to describe someone’s illegal presence in the country,” he reportedly said in an agency-wide email.