A word used by the U.S. government to describe a foreign-born person who is not a citizen by naturalization or parentage. People who enter the United States legally are called resident aliens and they carry alien registration cards also known as green cards, because they used to be green.
While Webster’s first definition of the term alien is in accordance with the government’s interpretation, the dictionary also includes other, darker, meanings for the word, such as “a non-terrestrial being,” “strange,” “not belonging to one,” “adverse,” “hostile.” And the Encyclopedia Britannica points out that “in early times, the tendency was to look upon the alien as an enemy and to treat him as a criminal or an outlaw.” It is not surprising then that in 1798, in anticipation of a possible war with France, the U.S. Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which restricted “aliens” and curtailed press freedoms. By 1800 the laws had been repealed or had expired but they still cast a negative shadow over the word.
In modern times, with science-fiction growing in popularity, alien has come to mean a creature from outer space, and is considered pejorative by most immigrants.
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