November-December 2013

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PASS THE MIC Editorials, Comments, and Opinions Alien: What's in a Name? Everything! by Jordana A. Hart Jordana A. Hart is a Canadian-born immigration attorney practicing with the law firm of David J. Hart, P.A. in Miami. The author's views do not necessarily represent the views of AILA nor do they constitute legal advice or representation. L egal Alien. Arriving alien. Illegal alien. Enemy alien. Extraterrestrial. Stranger. Foreign. Different. Apart. "Alien" is the longstanding legal term used in U.S. immigration law to label anyone who is "not a citizen or national of the United States." INA §101(a)(3). The term has been widespread for so long that it rolls off the tongues of immigration advocates and critics alike. Words can heal or pollute, so what we call people matters. As Congress yet again dawdles with reforming the country's immigration system, the term "illegal alien" is again a political weapon serving to dehumanize and demonize more than 12 million people in an effort to engender fear and loathing and, therefore, stymie reform. Significant Move In a huge step forward, the Associated Press (AP), the world's largest news-gathering operation, finally opted to label actions and not people as "illegal" and decided to drop the term "illegal alien" or "illegal immigrant" from its stylebook, to which most major newspapers adhere. The AP and its news media followers had officially used the term since 2004. Advocates deem the change a blessing. But it's not enough. "Alien" might be the legally correct term for anyone in the United States who is not a citizen, but is it the right term? In the public consciousness, labeling someone an "alien" has the distinct effect of isolating that person from the mainstream or social norm, whether they are here legally or illegally. Even though the term is embedded in legal jargon and lay language, "alien" has a ring of misery and loneliness to it. In the ongoing immigration debate, it can be as inflammatory as the term "illegal." Calling for a Sea Change With the more recent ebb and flow of efforts to reform the immigration system, the media have examined its use of certain labels. Lawrence Downes, in a New York Times op-ed dated October 28, 2007, criticized the term "illegal" because it "pollutes the debate. It blocks solutions. … Used as an irreducible modifier for a large and largely decent group of people, it is badly damaging. As a code word for racial and ethnic hatred, it is detestable." Downes did not use the term "alien" in his column, but rather uses the term "immigrant," raising the question of whether he intentionally avoided the term because he deems it loathsome as well. The Miami Herald, in a 2007 series examining its own coverage of immigration issues, went so far as to say that labels determine who wins. "The labels that stick become the prism through which the nation views the issue," wrote Edward Schumacher-Matos, the newspaper's thenombudsman. We need to get rid of "alien"—at least in everyday parlance—and replace it with something neutral or factual that does not play into the zealotry of either side of the immigration debate, such as noncitizen, nonresident, migrant, or foreign national. N OVEMBER/ D ECEMBER 2013 45

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