WASHINGTON — House Republicans want the Library of Congress to keep using the term “illegal aliens,” whether it wants to or not.
The subcommittee tasked with the library’s appropriations approved a measure on Wednesday that would effectively force the library to use the term in its subject headings, even though many consider the phrase pejorative.
Decisions on bibliographic records are not typically made by politicians — especially the House Appropriations Committee, which is meant to set funding levels for the entire government. The subcommittee was, in fact, discussing a bill to fund the legislative branch. But immigration terminology took up a significant chunk of the hourlong meeting, Roll Call reported.
The measure was responding to the Library of Congress’ decision in March to stop using “illegal alien” in subject headings and replace it with “non-citizens” and “unauthorized immigration.”
That had been a victory for immigrant rights advocates, who have urged news outlets, other organizations and individuals to stop using “illegal” to describe human beings. (The Huffington Post uses the term “undocumented immigrant.”) Dartmouth College, its student organization Coalition For Immigration Reform, Equality and DREAMers (CoFIRED), and the American Library Association had publicly called for the change.
But Republicans didn’t like the Library of Congress’ decision and deemed the appropriations process the right place to overturn it. They added this language to the legislative appropriations bill: “To the extent practical, the committee instructs the library to maintain certain subject headings that reflect terminology used in Title 8 of the United States code.”
I don’t know how anyone in this room could declare that politicizing the issue. Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.)
Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), chairman of the subcommittee, argued during the Wednesday meeting that they were simply trying to ensure the Library of Congress matches the language of the U.S. legal code, not politicizing an issue.
“There should not be a micro-managing of terminology with the Library of Congress,” he said.
But the measure isn’t about the Library of Congress conforming its terminology with that of the entire U.S. Code — just Title 8, which deals with immigration. No one at the meeting denied that the move was related to the library’s decision on “illegal aliens.”
If Democrats don’t like the term “illegal aliens,” they should introduce bills to change the U.S. Code, Graves said.
“This is just asking the library to maintain that consistency with what is in the United States Code, and I don’t know how anyone in this room could declare that politicizing the issue,” he said.
A spokesman for Graves argued that the Library of Congress had announced its decision without a public comment period to avoid giving Congress or Americans a say in the matter and that the Appropriations Committee therefore had to stop it.
The Library of Congress did not respond to a request for comment, nor did CoFIRED. The American Library Association declined to comment until the bill language was posted.
They didn’t land here on a spaceship and most people, if you met them in a grocery or something, they wouldn’t describe those who came here illegally as aliens. Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.)
Democratic members of the subcommittee asked Graves and other Republicans to reconsider including the provision and let Congress debate the Library of Congress’ subject headings elsewhere.
“Are we going to do this every time the Library of Congress is petitioned for these little business kind of decisions?” Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) asked.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said she hoped they could “make a decision not to be the word police in the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee.” She was the only subcommittee member to vote against the bill.
A better place to debate the terminology, she and other Democrats argued, would be in Congress as a whole. Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), who is not on the subcommittee, introduced a bill this month to require the Library of Congress to use the term “illegal aliens.”
Republicans at the subcommittee meeting maintained that the appropriations bill was the best venue for hashing out the issue. Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) said that to stop using the term “illegal” entirely “would be a compromise in principle.”
But he suggested that “illegal immigrant” might be an acceptable compromise.
“I don’t see them as aliens,” Rigell said. “You know, the idea that we update language, that just makes sense to me. They didn’t land here on a spaceship and most people, if you met them in a grocery or something, they wouldn’t describe those who came here illegally as aliens.”