Respect Equality

Lawmakers battle over calling people ‘undocumented immigrants’ or ‘illegal aliens’

border wall illegal aliens undocumented immigrants colorado susan l julie gonzales usa amendment bill new york city
Paul Ratje / AFP

Story at a glance

  • Two Colorado state legislators introduced an amendment to replace the term “illegal alien” with the “undocumented immigrant” in public documents.
  • Colorado follows New York City in an attempt to ban a term that some find offensive and derogatory.
  • Others say that it is a violation of First Amendment rights.

The Colorado General Assembly will consider replacing the term “illegal alien” with “undocumented immigrant,” as politicians and activists across the country focus on the immigration rhetoric in official documents.

The bill, introduced Wednesday by Colorado state Rep. Susan Lontine (D) and Sen. Julie Gonzales (D), would change the terminology used to refer to individuals without proper citizenship paperwork in the Colorado Revised Statutes. 

If passed, public contracts will no longer contain the term “illegal alien,” replacing it with “undocumented immigrant.”

Lontine told The New York Times that changing to the more neutral “undocumented immigrants” could have the power to bend social sentiments in the migrants’ favor. 

Colorado would follow New York City’s footsteps, which has also banned the usage of “illegal alien” in any capacity. The city’s Commission on Human Rights clarifies that this ordinance will affect all public accommodations, employment and housing. It strengthens the ban of the word by outlawing its usage “with intent to demean, humiliate, or harass a person.”

The penalty for violating this ban is a fine up to $250,000.

Speaking about the change, Bitta Mostofi, the commissioner of the New York Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, said in a press release that her office is proud to have helped produce “this important guidance as we combat the federal government’s rhetoric of fear and xenophobic policies that have threatened the health and well-being of our immigrant communities.”

Similarly to its New York predecessor, the Colorado amendment aims to undermine the inflammatory rhetoric President Trump uses when discussing immigrants and immigration policy, USA Today reports. 

Some organizations see this ban as an infringement on the First Amendment and their right to free speech. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, argues that “illegal alien” is the correct legal term, as used in the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act and the Supreme Court. 

The Colorado bill is currently under consideration and will be presented before the Colorado House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs committee on Feb. 27.