Department of Justice Decides to Use Correct Terminology

On July 24, the Department of Justice (DOJ) instructed U.S. attorneys in an email to start calling aliens who are in the country illegally “illegal aliens.” Up until this point, some documents from the DOJ would still mention “undocumented immigrants.”

“The word ‘undocumented’ is not based in U.S. code, and should not be used to describe someone’s illegal presence in the country,” the email states.

The email also calls for U.S. citizens or lawfully present residents to be described as just “residents.” Since taking office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has not been afraid to use the term “illegal alien.” It makes sense for the DOJ to follow in the footsteps of its leadership and use the correct terminology.

This news broke shortly after the Federation for American Immigration Reform published a report this week titled “Why Illegal Alien is the Correct Term.” The term “illegal alien” was codified into federal law when President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. Meanwhile, “undocumented immigrant” is not found at all in a federal law.

According to the study by FAIR, the term “undocumented immigrant” entered the executive branch in the 1970s when President Jimmy Carter’s administration ordered immigration officials to start using the term instead of “illegal alien.” Popularity of the term has since grown, thanks in large part to wide-spread usage in the mainstream media.

In 2013, the Associated Press Stylebook changed their guidelines to avoid calling any person “illegal.” They recommended the use of “undocumented” instead. Most media outlets follow the AP Stylebook’s guidelines, so they adopted the language.

The open-borders lobby claims that “illegal alien” is a derogatory term, but history suggests otherwise. “Alien” has been used since the 14th century to describe someone who is a foreigner to a nation. Therefore, foreigners who are in a country without authorization are, simply, “illegal aliens.”

Federal law and the judiciary have used “illegal alien” for decades. The term “undocumented immigrant” implies that someone just happened to fall through the cracks of our immigration system and simply needs papers issued to become a lawful resident. Illegal aliens do not legally immigrate into the United States. They either overstay a visa or enter the United States without using the proper channels and following the proper protocol.

The DOJ made the correct decision in ordering U.S. attorneys to use the correct legal term “illegal alien.” The open-borders lobby has weaponized language to change the illegal immigration debate for years, and the DOJ took a big step forward in reclaiming ground in the terminology war.

About Author


Casey joined FAIR in 2018. He assists the research team with projects and writes for FAIR’S website. He previously spent a year working in journalism in Washington, D.C. He graduated from the University of Central Florida with a B.A. in Journalism in 2017.


  1. avatar

    As noted, alien is a term that has been used for centuries to denote someone who is not a citizen of a country. It is a legal definition in this country. And illegal is just a short hand way of saying someone is here without permission. It’s just the typical hysteria by the left who object to any term that actually tells the truth. For instance, they hate “anchor baby” because it accurately portrays the fact that those same leftists and advocates use the US born children as an argument for why their illegal parents shouldn’t be deported. Along with the misleading claim that they “pay taxes” but those taxes don’t make up for all the welfare given to their citizen children.

    The left has a constant agenda that does not take into account the views of the majority in this country. Thus it’s no problem that a thousand people of one sex be made uncomfortable in locker rooms and bathrooms as long as the feelings of one person who wakes up in the morning and decides they are another gender that day are satisfied.

    Look at what Obama did with his agenda. Why should any person be allowed to seek reassignment surgery while in the armed forces. Now the Navy Seals are going to allow women. It’s not that women can’t be personally brave, they can. But they are not as strong and don’t have the same stamina as men, and some people may end up getting killed because of it. And actually most men can’t make it. But the point is that our armed forces are for the defense of the country and not the proving ground for every latest cause the left comes up with.

  2. avatar

    Finally, an organization with the guts to stand up to the bleeding heart Kool Aid drinkers of the PC left and tell them if they don’t like the terminology they can go pound sand.

  3. avatar

    About time. We have many examples where words changed or redefined have horrendous resuls.

  4. avatar

    I just call them Illegals, that includes the Illegal dreamers. We need to do what Canada did, do way with anchor babies being dropped and being citizens.