Biden orders ICE, CBP to drop ‘illegal aliens,’ ‘assimilation’ when referring to migrants

President Joe Biden has ordered departments not to use certain terms when referring to noncitizens.

The Washington Post first reported that Biden sent a memo to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection about the preferred terminology.

According to the memos, which were confirmed by FOX News, departments are asked to avoid using the terms "illegal alien," "alien" and "assimilation." Instead, they are asked to use the terms "noncitizen or migrant," "undocumented" and "integration."

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According to FOX News, Biden previously signaled changes to official language around immigration were coming when he first took office.

"The policy of my Administration is to protect national and border security, address the humanitarian challenges at the southern border, and ensure public health and safety," he said in an executive order addressing immigration enforcement.

"We must also adhere to due process of law as we safeguard the dignity and well-being of all families and communities. My Administration will reset the policies and practices for enforcing civil immigration laws to align enforcement with these values and priorities," he added.

Federal law refers to an "alien" as "any person not a citizen or national of the United States." Federal law also often uses the term "illegal aliens."

RELATED: Number of kids traveling alone at US-Mexico border hits all-time high in March

Biden’s actions come amid a huge spike in migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border. CBP reported more than 172,000 encounters in March 2021 which is up from more than 34,000 from March 2020.

Meanwhile, Biden also plans to lift his predecessor’s historically low cap on refugees by next month after initially moving only to expand the eligibility criteria for resettlements and getting swift blowback from allies in return.

In an emergency determination signed last week, Biden stated the admission of up to 15,000 refugees previously set by President Donald Trump "remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest." But if the cap is reached before the end of the current budget year and the emergency refugee situation persists, then a presidential determination may be issued to raise the ceiling.

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Shortly after his inauguration, Biden signed executive orders to address family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border, border security and legal immigration, expanding efforts to quickly undo changes to immigration policy over the last four years.

Officials said the administration will seek to address the underlying causes of migration by confronting the "instability, violence, and economic insecurity" that currently drives individuals from their homes. The administration said it will work with foreign governments and organizations to provide protection and opportunities to asylum seekers closer to home. 

Biden tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the White House effort to tackle migration at the U.S. southern border. Harris is tasked with overseeing diplomatic efforts to deal with issues spurring migration in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, as well as pressing them to strengthen enforcement on their own borders, administration officials said. More broadly, though, she’s tasked with implementing a long-term strategy that gets at the root causes of migration from those countries.

Housing migrants, especially minors, has also been a challenge for the White House.

For the third time in seven years, U.S. officials are scrambling to handle a dramatic spike in children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border alone, leading to a massive expansion in emergency facilities to house them as more kids arrive than are being released to close relatives in the United States.

More than 22,000 migrant children were in government custody as of Thursday, with 10,500 sleeping on cots at convention centers, military bases and other large venues likened to hurricane evacuation shelters with little space to play and no privacy. More than 2,500 are being held by border authorities in substandard facilities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.