Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has banned the use of the term “unaccompanied alien children” (UAC). Those familiar with the administration’s manipulation of language to subtly influence or stop a debate will not be surprised.

According to an internal June 4 ICE e-mail message distributed widely to managers in headquarters and field offices, personnel were urged to refrain from using the official acronym UAC, in favor of “unaccompanied child”. The e-mail reads:

This was briefed earlier today during [t]he command and staff meeting. It has been requested that in correspondence regarding unaccompanied children, [t]hey not be referred to as UACs. The term UAC should not be used in official correspondence. The appropriate messaging on documents should be using the term: unaccompanied children, all lower case. (Unless capitalizing would be grammatically correct).

The term “unaccompanied alien child” is not a random expression, but defined in U.S. law at 6 USC 279(g)(2), which reads:


As used in this section… (2) the term ”unaccompanied alien child” means a child who
(A) has no lawful immigration status in the United States;
(B) has not attained 18 years of age; and
(C) with respect to whom —
(i) there is no parent or legal guardian in the United States; or
(ii) no parent or legal guardian in the United States is available to provide care and physical custody.”

In the immigration debate, advocacy groups have long sought to make the legal term “illegal alien” taboo in an attempt to evoke more sympathy for those breaking U.S. law. Now the media, advocacy groups, and the administration use the term “undocumented worker”, an interesting slant since many illegal aliens do not work and most have documents (often fraudulent).

The phrase “unaccompanied child” is overly general and blurs the status of the illegal-alien children that ICE staff are dealing with. It also makes the term useless indecipherable — for example, my daughter is traveling unaccompanied now. If I say “Elizabeth is an unaccompanied child,” will my listeners think she is an illegal alien who has entered the country and is presently being handed over to a stranger, feigning to be a relative?

Instead of persuading the public that his controversial policy — allowing UACs and families (families comprise two-thirds of those arriving) to cross the border and then be surreptitiously transported at no cost throughout the country — is valid, the president chooses to use propaganda techniques. With Orwellian flair, our government is manipulating words to advance policies unpopular with the public.

The administration has just suggested, through choice of language, its intent for these unaccompanied alien children, mostly males between the ages of 14 and 17, to remain in the country.

Now watch the media fall into line.


Marguerite Telford serves as the Director of Communications for the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), an independent, non-partisan immigration research institute located in Washington, DC. Ms. Telford is responsible for media relations and the coordination of special media events. She shares her expertise on immigration policy with television and radio networks as well as visiting groups.