A Colorado lawmaker proposed replacing the term illegal alien with undocumented immigrant on Thursday, bringing arguments heard in New York City and California to a swing state.
The measure and similar efforts grapple with how language frames political conversations about immigration, and follow reports on the incendiary words President Donald Trump uses to describe migrants.
If passed, the Colorado House bill sponsored by Rep. Susan would require that public contracts replace illegal alien with undocumented immigrant, similar to how California removed the term alien from the state labor code in 2015. New York City went a step further last September by banning derogatory usage of the phase in an effort to prevent discrimination based on immigration status.
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Some who oppose the measures say illegal alien is a legal term for people who enter the U.S. unauthorized, referencing its usage in federal laws such as the Immigration and Nationality Act. Hans von Spakovsky, a fellow with the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, has called alternatives to the term imprecise or overly politically correct.
Meanwhile, supporters of the efforts say the term alien dehumanizes immigrants. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Tex., called upon Congress to replace the word with foreign national last year, introducing a bill he said would create a more welcoming environment.
"It's vital that we respect the dignity of immigrants fleeing violence and prosecution in our language," Castro said in a statement at the time. "The words "alien" and "illegal alien" work to demonize and dehumanize the migrant community. They should have no place in our government's description of human beings."
The bill did not make it past the committee stage, but studies show anti-immigrant political rhetoric can affect policy and negatively impact the mental and physical health of foreign nationals.
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There are roughly 10 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center. Most come from Mexico, Central America and Asia. It is estimated that more than 16.7 million people in the United States have at least one undocumented immigrant in their household.
Earlier this week, the Trump administration ramped up its pressure on so-called sanctuary communities, touting a new round of legal challenges in Washington state and New Jersey in an attempt to force cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities.
"In pursuing their personal ambitions and misguided notions of equal justice, these district attorneys are systematically violating the rule of law and may even be unlawfully discriminating against American citizens," Attorney General William Barr said Monday.
Contributing: Olivia Sanchez, Kevin Johnson and Kristine Phillips, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Illegal alien, undocumented immigrant: Colorado considers terms