Joe Biden Marjorie Taylor Greene
Some Democrats aren’t pleased with President Joe Biden after his State of the Union exchange with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Shawn Thew/AP

Joe Biden’s Immigration Language Has Gone Too Far for Some Democrats

The president’s use of the term “illegal” was disconcerting to some members who were already alarmed by his rhetoric.

Some members of Congress are frustrated with how President Joe Biden spoke about undocumented immigrants during the State of the Union, spotlighting continued tensions between the president and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus over the president’s handling of immigration.

During his address, Biden went off script in response to shouting from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and spoke about a woman who was, in his words, “killed by an illegal.”

“There was a lot of good in President Biden’s speech tonight, but his rhetoric about immigrants was incendiary and wrong,” Rep. Joaquin Castro, a CHC member, posted on X, adding it was “dangerously close to language from Donald Trump.”

Biden’s use of the term “illegal,” which is widely considered dehumanizing by immigrant rights supporters, was “really discouraging,” Rep. Delia Ramirez said.

“We can’t use words like that because words matter,” she told CNN.

The tension between some CHC members and the president “is obvious,” according to one member’s staffer. The CHC couldn’t be reached for comment.

On his way out of Washington on Friday afternoon, a reporter asked the president if he “regrets using the word ‘illegal’ to describe immigrants.”

“Technically, he’s not supposed to be here,” Biden responded.

Asked on Friday whether Biden regretted his use of the term, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said he was speaking with compassion about the death of the woman, Laken Riley. The nursing student’s death has become a major talking point on the right, and the House passed a bill on Thursday in her name that would mandate the detention of undocumented immigrants charged with certain crimes.

“The reality is she was murdered by someone who came to this country illegally,” Jean-Pierre said during a small briefing with reporters, adding that the details are still under investigation. “So he talked about it in a compassionate way, we think.”

Jean-Pierre noted that Biden’s remarks were off-the-cuff. “There was somebody who crossed over in an illegal way. And this young lady was sadly murdered, and that is what he was speaking to, and that is what he was trying to make very clear.”

Federal agencies have minimized the use of the term “illegal alien” under the Biden administration, instead using “undocumented” or “noncitizen,” though it remains statutory language.

“It’s not an accurate way of talking about people, and it’s a hurtful way of talking about people,” Rep. Greg Casar told Insider. “I don’t think that’s what the president thinks.”

One congressional aide said they didn’t think “the majority of the CHC but rather a small group” was “angry” with Biden over using the term. Though the aide conceded: “Do I think the word is immensely hurtful and shouldn’t be said? Yes.”

Vicente Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat, reportedly said the members should “get over it.” Yet most of the members didn’t say they were angry.

“As a proud immigrant, I’m extremely disappointed to hear President Biden use the word ‘illegal,’” Rep. Chuy Garcia posted on X.

Ben T.N. Mause is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.