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Campus Free Speech

GWU Law Student Gov't Directs People to Stop Saying/Writing "Illegal," "Alien," and "Assimilation" re: Immigration

It's the "Immigration - Written and Oral Reform Declaration (I-WORD) Joint Resolution" from 2021.


As you might gather, I don't think serious law schools—including student government groups at such law schools—should be "direct[ing]" faculty, staff, and students not to use certain legal terms, especially when they are parts of statutes, statutory titles current (the Alien Tort Statute) and past (the Alien Act), court opinions, and more. But here I just wanted to present the text of the GW Law Student Bar Association resolution, so readers can decide on it for themselves.

Purpose: To call upon members of The George Washington University and The George Washington University Law School to abstain from using the terms "illegal," "alien," and "assimilation" in internal communications and external correspondence regarding immigration.

WHEREAS: Since 1948, the right to a nationality, the right to change one's nationality, and the right not to be deprived of one's nationality are all universally recognized under international law1;

WHEREAS: The term "alien" has historically been used throughout U.S. immigration law to refer to individuals who do not have U.S. citizenship and are not a US national2;

WHEREAS: Immigration advocates have long argued that the term "alien" dehumanizes migrants and commonly conjures up images of Martians or Mandalorians that readily lend itself to xenophobic rhetoric3;

WHEREAS: State and municipal governments such as California and New York City have taken steps to remove and replace the word "alien" in long standing legal codes4;

WHEREAS: The phrase "illegal alien" has historically been used in US immigration discourse to describe an individual, who is not a US citizen or a US national, and is present within the sovereign territory of the United States in a manner that is not in accordance with the law5;

WHEREAS: The phrase "illegal alien" is often strategically weaponized to evoke prejudice against undocumented immigrants both within and outside of the courtroom, as in the case of the DOJ instructing all prosecuters to adopt the phrase "illegal alien" instead of "undocumented immigrants" under the guidance of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions6;

WHEREAS: The phrase "assimilate" has historically been used throughout US immigration to describe the purpose of the process of naturalization, which seeks to incorporate and, in many instances, indoctrinate non-citizens and non-nationals into American culture7;

WHEREAS: The policy of "assimilation" has historically been used to control, reshape, and eradicate traditional cultural identities that differed from the contemporaneous American cultural norms, such as in the case of Native Americans8;

WHEREAS: In January 2021, The Biden Administration issued guidance memos through the Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies instructing all officials to adopt "more inclusive" language by replacing terms such as "illegal," "alien," and "assimilation" with "noncitizen," "undocumented individual," and "integration"9;

WHEREAS: The U.S. Citizenship Act, H.R. 1177 and S. 348, introduced in February of 2021, replaces every use of the word alien with noncitizen in all of its singular, plural, and possessive forms throughout the immigration laws of the United States10;

WHEREAS: The George Washington University is officially chartered by Congress and many members of the GW Law community have served, currently serve, or will serve in all three branches of the United States Federal Government11;

WHEREAS: The Student Bar Association Senate Academic Policy Committee has unanimously approved the joint resolution draft with regards to content, grammar, and Bylaw compliance …; now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED: That The George Washington University Law School Student Bar Association as a whole—

  1. Condemns the use of the words "alien," "illegal alien," "illegal immigration," "assimilation," or any other dehumanizing and offensive rhetoric surrounding immigration discourse in all modes of communication by members of the GW Law community—including faculty, students, administrators, and staff;
  1. Also condemns the use of the words "alien," "illegal alien," "assimilation," or any other dehumanizing and offensive rhetoric surrounding immigration discourse in all modes of communication by members of the GW University community—including faculty, students, administrators, and staff;
  1. Recognizes the impact diction can have on framing solutions to an issue as complex as immigration and the potential for inclusive word choice to be utilized as a bridge to forming specific, tangible, humane policy changes;
  1. Directs all members of the GW Law community to bring internal and external communications in congruence with the most recent guidance from the executive branch by adopting more inclusive language—such as "noncitizen," "foreign nationals," "undocumented individual," and "integration"—for the purposes of encouraging more humane and secure immigration policies, while avoiding any confusion as to proper terminology post-guidance; ….

1 See, e.g., Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. XV "Everyone has the right to a nationality. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality."

2 Immigration and Nationality Act, 9 U.S.C. §1101(a)(3).

3 LA Times, From 'Alien' to 'Noncitizen': Why the Biden Word Change Matters in the Immigration Debate, L.A. Times, (Feb. 18, 2021, 4:50 PM), cs-undocumented(last visited Oct. 23, 2021).

4 Beam, Adam, California to replace the word 'alien' from its laws, Associated Press News, (Sep. 24, 2021), visited Oct. 23, 2021).

5 United States v. Texas, 809 F.3d 134, 148 (5th Cir. 2015).

6 Kopan, Tal, Justice Department: Use 'illegal aliens,' not 'undocumented', CNN, (Jul. 24, 2018, 8:12 PM), visited Oct. 23, 2021).

7 See Alejandro Portes & Alejandro Rivas, The Adaptation of Migrant Children, Future Child., Spring 2011, at 219, 221–22.

8 United States v. Clapox, 13 Sawy. 349, 35 F. 575 (D. Ore. 1888).

9 Rose, Joel, Immigration Agencies Ordered Not To Use Term 'Illegal Alien' Under New Biden Policy, NPR, (Apr. 19, 2021, 2:51 PM), der-new-biden-polic(last visited Oct. 23, 2021).

10 See U.S. Citizenship Act, H.R. 1177, 117th Cong. (2021); see also U.S. Citizenship Act, S. 348, 117th Cong. (2021).

11 An Act to incorporate the Columbia College in the District of Columbia, 6 Stat. 255, 16th Congress (1821).