DOJ Email Asks U.S. Attorneys to Refer to Undocumented Immigrants As 'Illegal Aliens'

Illustration for article titled DOJ Email Asks U.S. Attorneys to Refer to Undocumented Immigrants As 'Illegal Aliens'
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The long and contentious debate over the correct way to refer to those who enter the U.S. without “papers” or proper authorization could use some rebranding, according to the Department of Justice—at least in one email obtained by CNN.


On July 25, CNN reported that in an email sent to the offices of U.S. attorneys, the DOJ instructed recipients not to use the phrase “undocumented immigrants” and to use “illegal aliens” instead.

The email, addressed to public information officials (or PIOs) at the U.S. attorneys’ offices, reads:

[W]hen a defendant’s illegal presence in the U.S. is an established fact in the public record, or when it has been provided to the court to help it determine whether or detain an defendant, they should be referred to as an “illegal alien.” [...] 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 author, exact date, and time that the email was sent has been redacted on CNN’s copy of the email. Whoever wrote it, though, is thankfully available for questions:

[...] If you have any questions or wish to discuss a specific matter or circumstance, please don’t hesitate to call me.

Have a great weekend,

Elsewhere in the email, the DOJ acknowledges that those drafting press releases for U.S. attorneys may not always know the legal statuses of immigrants they’re writing about. In that case, or in the cases of immigrants who are “legally present in the U.S.,” the DOJ states that they should be described by their original citizenship, i.e. “Honduran citizen residing in Toledo.”

These DOJ guidelines are meant to “clear up some confusion and to be consistent in the way we draft our releases.” It may not matter, as many news outlets, like this one, only use terms like “illegal alien” when quoting.

Senior Writer, Jezebel