Conservative websites Breitbart.com the National Review online have both reported that ICE has allegedly directed officers to stop using the term "Unaccompanied Alien Child" or "UAC" in reference to minors who attempt to cross the border without a parent or guardian, and instead simply refer to them as "unaccompanied children".
Both articles focus on the dropping of the word "alien", and imply that the change is due to decreasing use of that term. While "alien" is used in immigration laws, many find it offensive, and some media outlets have stopped using the term. While I would generally applaud elimination of the term "alien", I think that this change would not be motivated by sensitivity, but rather efforts to eliminate the rights of children.
If these reports are true, the change in terminology is much more significant- and ominous than simply dropping the term "alien" would suggest. This is because "Unaccompanied Alien Child" is a legal term for someone entitled to rights President Obama has said that he wants eliminated.
The term "Unaccompanied Alien Child" comes from a law enacted under the Bush administration in which minors from countries other than Canada or Mexico who are apprehended trying to cross the border are given special protections. For example, they can only be detained in immigration facilities for a very limited time, and their cases are ultimately managed by the Department of Health and Human Services. They also have a right to hearing in front of an immigration judge, while others caught at the border often do not. Resources are generally more available to assist UAC's to apply for any legal protections to which they may be entitled.
In response to the recent humanitarian crisis with minors from Central America, however, President Obama has said that he intends to ask Congress to eliminate these legal protections for Unaccompanied Alien Children. While this would theoretically reduce some of the current overcrowding and demand on government resources, it is a highly objectionable way to achieve this goal.
It is true that it is more difficult and time-consuming to provide UAC's with the rights to which they are legally entitled. Nonetheless, this is time and money well-spent. Unaccompanied Alien Children are incredibly vulnerable, usually lacking the resources, education, or sophistication to survive on their own, much less demonstrate eligibility for immigration status to a border patrol agent.
Keep in mind that children crossing the border from Central America are fleeing extreme danger and horrific conditions. To speed up their deportation for the sake of efficiency is a horrible solution.
By eliminating references to an "Unaccompanied Alien Child", however, it becomes rhetorically easier (or at least more consistent) for the Obama administration to argue that the term, and the rights associated with it, should also be taken away. It may also make it easier to apply guidance provided now to a near future in which the term "Unaccompanied Alien Child" is no longer used.
It appears, therefore, that referring to "Unaccompanied Alien Children" as "unaccompanied children" would not be a respectful acknowledgement that the term "alien" is offensive to many, but rather a way to ease the elimination of their rights. It is easier to argue that an Unaccompanied Alien Child should not get protections when you stop acknowledging the term.
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