Why “Alien” is Dehumanizing to Immigrants


Maryam Sadeghifard, Staff Writer

“Alien” has been used to refer to immigrants, often used in the term “illegal aliens”. Confronting the issue first-hand means understanding why “alien” is dehumanizing to visa-less immigrants who already feel as though they are alienated and discriminated against throughout the U.S., especially during the Trump Administration. When there are substitutions available to refer to those who come to the U.S. without a visa such as undocumented, unauthorized, etc. there is no longer a need to use alien. 

The term “alien” was instituted in our government from around 1798 starting from the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Since then, we have been using this term as an excuse to dehumanize immigrants, legal or illegal. The terminology is extremely derogatory to those who immigrate here and under the law are referred to as lesser than those who were born here. Put simply, after the institution of the word in 1798, the definition of “alien” changed. Today we make the association of an extraterrestrial type of creature to define the type of human who immigrated to America, an alien. 

Considering the numerous advancements California has made, it is finally time that there is a replacement for this word. By providing government-funded health insurance to low-income children, and to some living undocumented, as well as signing a law earlier this year to use gender neutral language, California is by far the most inclusive and advanced state when referring to social issues. California has 10.68 million immigrants, not including those undocumented, and the change is more than appropriate for our times.

In fact, the term does not have anything to do with being illegal in itself, it has to do with immigrants overall. When you enter the U.S., you’re automatically deemed an “alien.” The name replacement has been a topic of discussion since 2015, and the hurtful narrative prompted a change in the law, exempting the word in labor and education codes. Following this action, Canada rightfully replaced the term with “foreign national”.  

Banning words doesn’t cause changes in policy, but it is a reflection of shifting public perception,” said Francie Diep in her article, “Why Did We Ever Call Uncodumented Immigrants ‘Aliens’.”

Already making advancements, in April 2021, President Joe Biden made immigration agencies get rid of the term “alien”. By ceasing to refer to immigrants as aliens, we are one step closer to being an enlightened and educated community that is accepting of everyone. Now that we have started to tackle this issue of inequality, there is more being done now than ever before. 

Harvard Library understood the demanding diction of the laws, and had previously made it their mission in March to remove this language from cataloging language.

To officially finish the job in California, Governor Gavin Newsom understands that this term is highly divisive and Governor Newsom has taken the initiative in terms of recognizing the inhumane way of referring to immigrants. 

“By changing this term, we are ensuring California’s laws reflect our state’s values,” Governor Newsom said.

This step Governor Newsom took in signing a law to remove the word from all state laws proved to be extremely crucial to influencing future laws. That same day, he also signed a law to clarify that targeting people due to their immigration status would be considered a hate crime and private detention facilities would adhere to local and state health orders. Progressive changes like these will protect immigrants rather than demonizing them. 

As a country built out of immigration, we must treat immigrants with respect and try to develop a deeper understanding of the reason for immigrating, and how we can make the process as efficient as possible. There is still so much to tackle with the treatment of immigrants in America, and including the abuse of labor towards undocumented immigrants. Yet still, this is one tip toe closer to inclusion of immigrants. We thank Governor Newsom for understanding this demeaning language and instituting this much needed change.


Photo Courtesy of WIKIMEDIA.ORG