After implementing a policy change on language, the acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner said, 'The words we use matter and will serve to further confer that dignity to those in our custody.'
Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott, a Donald Trump appointee, denounced a new Biden administration policy demanding changes in the language used to refer to immigrants.
Scott penned a memo to Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Troy Miller on April 16 to protest a proposed U.S. Customs and Border Patrol policy to replace "illegal alien" with "undocumented noncitizen" and "assimilation" with "civic integration," among other new suggested language.
A law enforcement source leaked the memo to conservative right-wing media outlet Breitbart, which published it on April 27.
"This memorandum serves as my official nonconcurrence to the proposed updated terminology for U.S. Customs and Border Protection communication and materials. I will not undermine this effort; however, I cannot endorse it," Scott wrote.
He said he was concerned that the changes could potentially politicize the agency, writing, "Mandating the use of terms which are inconsistent with law has the potential to further erode public trust in our government institutions."
Scott then recommended that the changes be delayed until the comprehensive U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 is enacted into law. But, notably, that sweeping bill is highly unlikely to pass Congress amid GOP opposition and a 50-50 party split in the Senate.
The policy was implemented on April 19 despite Scott's opposition.
"This memorandum establishes updated language and aligns our communication practices with the Biden Administration's guidance regarding immigration terminology," Miller wrote in a policy memo published that day. "As the nation's premier law enforcement agency, we set a tone and example for our country and partners across the world."
Trump nominated Scott in January 2020 to helm the Border Patrol. A 27-year veteran of the agency, Scott had strongly backed Trump's agenda.
"'Let's prove what works and then let's copy in on the southwest border so we can improve security for the whole United States," Scott told the AP, touting the U.S.-Mexico border wall at San Diego, California, where he spent most of his career.
But experts who spoke with the American Independent Foundation stressed that words used to describe immigrants have a broad impact.
Michele McKenzie, deputy director of the nonprofit Advocates for Human Rights, said in an email, "No word so clearly labels a person as 'other' or fails to recognize humanity in an individual than 'alien.' The term long has been coupled with terms like 'enemy,' 'sedition,' and, more recently, 'illegal.'"
"Words matter," McKenzie continued. "Statutory definitions articulate and shape public policy."
"Noncitizens is a better descriptor that reminds us that they are part of our economy and social circle, but they lack political rights, like the right to vote," Ernesto Castaneda, a professor and founding director of the Immigration Lab at American University, said in an email.
Miller also wrote in his April 19 CBP memo, "The words we use matter and will serve to further confer that dignity to those in our custody."
Other government agencies have also worked to eliminate the term.
The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 would also replace the term with "noncitizen" in the nation's immigration laws.
"The term dehumanizes men, women and children, and it has often been weaponized against immigrants of color, such as the racist laws intended to block Chinese immigration in the late 19th century," said California Democratic Assemblymember Evan Low on Feb. 18.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.