MAY 2021
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Words Matter!

Dilip Patel


U.S. immigration enforcement agencies will no longer use the term "illegal alien" in official communications to refer to immigrants in the country.

Some terminology is on its face offensive and unacceptable. Readers who lived in New Jersey or England in the early 1970s will have bad memories of terms such as “Dot –Busting” or “Paki-Bashing.”

However, some terminology which while acceptable at one time becomes unacceptable because of its use to offend and disparage certain groups. Clear examples are the N-word and the B-word. We need to be extra vigilant about the use of such terminology. The words “alien” and “illegal alien” have long appeared in U.S. immigration laws, but in recent years have been used in a disparaging manner. We therefore welcome the April 19 actions by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to establish updated language practices.

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 proposed by the Biden Administration also contains provisions to eliminate those words from the immigration laws. Until the laws are changed, applicable terms may be used as defined in the Immigration Nationality Act in legal or operational documents, including when completing required forms, particularly where legally required or necessary to ensure the procedural rights of those whom the agencies encounter.

For CBP, Troy Miller, senior official performing the duties of the commissioner, issued a memo dated April 19 establishing guidance on the preferred use of immigration terminology within the federal government. A similar memo was issued by the acting head of ICE, Tae Johnson.

The CBP memo states, “As the nation’s premier law enforcement agency, we set a tone and example for our country and partners across the world. The way we communicate and conduct our agency’s business must reflect the inherent professionalism of the men and women of CBP. We enforce our nation’s laws while also maintaining the dignity of every individual with whom we interact. The words we use matter and will serve to further confer that dignity to those in our custody.”

ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson said in an email to employees announcing the change, "In an effort to rebuild public trust and reshape our agency’s image, ICE will make efforts to avoid using terminology that might be perceived by others as offensive or otherwise disparaging,"

The memos provide new terminology to use moving forward. “Noncitizen or migrant” instead of “Alien.” The words “undocumented noncitizen” or “undocumented individual” can be used instead of “illegal alien.”

Words matter, and we need to continue to take steps to make sure our policies and our language reflects recognize the vital role of immigrants and immigration to our families, communities and economy.


Alert: Delays in Issuing USCIS Notices Continues

It is taking significantly longer for USCIS to process applications. Especially impacted are delays in the issuance of receipt notices for Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status; Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers; and Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (EAD), filed with USCIS lockbox facilities. If you filed a concurrent or stand-alone Form I-485 for adjustment of status (AOS) in September, October or November 2020, you may be experiencing severe delays in receiving a receipt notice.

While some people have received their receipts, it is not unusual to have to wait two-three months at minimum to get receipts.

There are many factors for this backlog, including, but not limited to: Increase in the number of filings in the month of September due to anticipated fee hikes; Unexpected increase in filings due to visa bulletin movement in fall 2020; and COVID-19-related reduction of employees at the USCIS lockbox.

Due to these combined factors, it is taking significantly longer for USCIS to process applications. Although the USCIS website says that the average wait time is 30 days, customers are reporting lengthier delays.

In particular, those who have applied for an AOS along with an EAD or Employment Authorization Document (Form I-765) and an advance parole document (Form I-131) have experienced significant delays not only in receiving proof, but also in the time it has taken for their applications to be processed. Whereas previously, the average processing times varied from ninety days to six months, these cases can now experience delays for as long as eight or nine months. For EAD and/or advance parole delays of six months or longer, it may be helpful to contact USCIS through Emma, USCIS’s online virtual assistance; via telephone; or by filing an e-request (all links are at If those actions produce no results and the delays are egregious, you may wish to contact your local congressional representative or senator. Federal litigation is also under way, but no results yet.

Dilip Patel of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, a board-certified expert on immigration law, can be reached at (813) 222-1120 or email [email protected]

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