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An era of euphemism and lies

President Biden’s apology for saying “illegal” immigrant reflects the world we live in now


President Joe Biden holds up a Laken Riley pin as he delivers the State of the Union on March 7. Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik

An era of euphemism and lies
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The southern border is in crisis, with more than 200,000 people illegally entering the country every month. The total exceeds more than 6 million illegal crossings so far in President Joe Biden’s term. However, in shocking display of straining at gnats, President Biden has apologized, not for the situation at the border, but for the words he used to refer to those who have entered our country in violation of the law.

The president committed his word crime during his recent State of the Union address. In the speech he discussed immigration, including the tragic case in which an illegal immigrant has been arrested for the murder of Laken Riley, a nursing student in Georgia. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a representative from Georgia, heckled President Biden during his speech, which led to an impromptu exchange in which Biden said Riley was killed “by an illegal.” That choice of words was highly problematic for many on the left, including Rep. Joaquin Castro who said it “was dangerously close to language from Donald Trump that puts a target on the backs of Latinos everywhere.”

Perhaps acknowledging the president’s need to do damage control, MSNBC host Jonathan Capehart raised the issue in a follow-up interview with the president. He said, “During your response to her heckling of you, you used the word illegal when talking about the man who allegedly killed Laken Riley.” President Biden didn’t even give Capeheart the chance to form a question. He knew what was coming. Biden interrupted and said, apologetically, “Undocumented. An undocumented person. And I shouldn’t have used ‘illegal’. I should’ve … it’s undocumented.” Capeheart ended the discussion by asking, “You regret using that word?” to which President Biden responded, “Yes.” With that, the immigration part of the interview was over.

While the administration has been shockingly ambivalent about the record number of illegal border crossings, they have never been ambivalent about the words used to describe those who break our nation’s laws to enter it. In fact, in April of 2021, only weeks after revoking the Trump administration border policies that had led to the lowest number of illegal border crossings in 50 years, the Biden administration changed official guidelines to stop use of the term “illegal aliens.” The acceptable terms are “undocumented noncitizen” or “undocumented individual.”

The problem with the word “undocumented” when it comes to Laken Riley’s alleged killer is that he is anything but undocumented.

The problem with the word “undocumented” when it comes to Laken Riley’s alleged killer is that he is anything but undocumented. In fact, the outrage over his situation is due, in large part, to the fact that he had twice been documented by authorities to be breaking our laws and illegally present, yet they did nothing about it. To say he is undocumented is a lie, but to say his presence in the United States is illegal is unambiguously true. But we all understand the world we live in now. Euphemism, lies, and censorship is the order of the day; anything but the unvarnished truth.

Still, our obsession over words isn’t problematic just because of the pressure to lie. We now emphasize the trivial to the neglect of the consequential. Even if President Biden had used an actual bad word to refer to the illegally present, alleged murderer, a sane society doesn’t have time to worry about that when a family has lost its daughter to a broken immigration system. But it’s not the first time we’ve seen this kind of obtuseness.

Shortly after Audrey Hale, a mass shooter who evidently identified as transgender, killed 6 people in a Nashville Christian school, a number of people had the nerve to express outrage that the coverage of her mass killing included posthumous “misgendering” and “deadnaming.” Never mind all the dead people, you’re hurting the mass murderer’s feelings. Coming from a movement that claims to be governed primarily by sensitivity to feelings, it’s both ironic and tragic. But what has become clear is that not all feelings matter, just approved ones.

This ideology and inability to prioritize is dangerous anywhere, but especially so when it’s running the White House. While Laken Riley’s alleged killer has received something of an apology for being referred to as “illegal” by the president, no such apology has been given to the victim’s family for a border policy that virtually guaranteed something like this would happen. Sadly, with 6 million illegal entries and counting, there’s a very good chance we haven’t seen the most violent consequences of our border policy. But rest assured, if similar or worse happens again, President Biden will make sure the perpetrators are referred to as “undocumented noncitizens” and not “illegal immigrants.”


Joseph Backholm

Joseph Backholm is senior fellow for Biblical worldview and strategic engagement at the Family Research Council. Previously, he served as a legislative attorney and spent 10 years as the president and general counsel of the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He also served as legal counsel and director of What Would You Say? at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview where he developed and launched a YouTube channel of the same name. His YouTube life began when he identified as a 6-foot-5 Chinese woman in a series of YouTube videos exploring the logic of gender identity. He and his wife Brook have four children.


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