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New Jersey lawmaker pushes to strike term ‘illegal alien’ from state statutes, citing ‘offensive language’

A Democratic lawmaker in New Jersey is pushing for legislation that would strike the term “illegal alien” from all state statutes and replace it with the phrase “undocumented foreign national.”

As first introduced on May 12, Senate Bill 2599 would replace references to “alien” and “illegal alien” in all state statutes with “foreign national” and “undocumented foreign national,” respectively, when referring to a person in the context of his or her legal status and “ensnares that executive branch agencies discontinue use of these terms.” 

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Nilsa I. Cruz-Perez, who represents District 5 in Camden and Gloucester counties, said it “removes from State law the offensive language characterizing persons who are immigrants as ‘aliens’ or ‘illegal aliens’ and prohibits State executive agencies from using those terms in any proposed or final rule, regulation, interpretation, publication, or other document, display, or sign issued by the agency after the effective date of this bill, except to the extent that they are used in quoting or reproducing text written by a source other than an officer or employee of the agency.”

“The United States is a nation of immigrants, and as such, our laws should discontinue the use of terms that ostracize those in our society who may have been born elsewhere,” she said in a statement regarding the bill. 

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“Regardless of status, immigrants to our nation are first and foremost human beings.  Removing the terms “alien” and “illegal alien” from this State’s laws shows respect to the hundreds of millions of descendants of immigrants who call the United States home,” she said. 

“Especially in the context of an issue as contentious as immigration, discontinuing use of the terms ‘alien’ and ‘illegal alien’ will help reduce the prejudice that has skewed discussions concerning immigration and offer recognition of immigrants’ personhood in the laws of this State,” she added.

Haitian community leaders, immigrant community members, and their supporters gather at the Newark Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office to demand that President Biden's administration stop deportations and restore the right to asylum on October 22, 2021, in Newark, New Jersey.

In a recent interview published Tuesday, Cruz-Perez, who is of Puerto Rican descent and is a member of the Latino legislative caucus, told the New Jersey Monitor that she believes the terms “illegal alien” and “alien” is insulting and dehumanizes immigrants. 

“When I hear alien, I think of another planet — that’s what we use that word for. Not people, just because they’re from another country,” she said. “I want to see them become citizens. They deserve it, and we need to see it happen very soon.”

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