The New York Times slammed Republican lawmakers for “fighting to preserve” the “anachronistic and offensive” terms “alien” and “illegal immigrant” in subject headings made by the Library of Congress.
Republican lawmakers introduced legislation demanding that the Library of Congress “retain the terms ‘alien’ and ‘illegal immigrant,’” after the American Library Association called for dropping the terms as subject headings. Numerous media outlets and style guides have retired the culturally incompetent anti-immigrant slur “illegal alien,” and Latinos and others in the media have criticized its use. Former Telemundo president Nely Galán confronted Fox News hosts over their constant use of the offensive term, and Univision’s Jorge Ramos pushed back on presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s use of the word by saying, “No human being is illegal.”
On June 20, the Times’ editorial board criticized Republican lawmakers’ attempt to tie legislation defending use of the “anachronistic and offensive term” to an appropriations bill that includes funding for the Library of Congress:
In January, the association passed a resolution calling on the Library of Congress to drop the subject heading “illegal aliens” and replace it with “undocumented immigrants.” In March, the library’s officials said they intended to replace “illegal aliens” with two new terms: “noncitizens” and “unauthorized immigration.”
The library changes or eliminates thousands of subject headings each year as language, meaning and connotations evolve. The term “Negro,” for instance, was retired as a subject heading in 1975; “insane” was abandoned in 2007 and replaced with “mentally ill.”
In April, Representative Diane Black, a Republican from Tennessee, introduced a bill called the Stopping Partisan Policy at the Library of Congress Act. It demanded that the library retain the terms “alien” and “illegal immigrant” as subject headings. “My constituents know that illegal immigration by any other name is still illegal, and we should identify it as such,” Ms. Black said in a statement. A version of her bill was later added as a provision in the appropriations bill for the legislative branch, which includes the Library of Congress.
In May, four other Republican lawmakers, including Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, wrote a letter to the library urging it not to change the terms. They accused the library of bowing “to the political pressure of the moment.”
Congress has never sought to control the library’s subject headings, noted Representative Joaquín Castro, who has introduced legislation to remove the terms “alien” and “illegal immigrant” from federal code.
“These folks may not be American citizens, but they are not people from outer space. They are human beings,” Mr. Castro, a Democrat from Texas, said in testimony before a House committee. “When ugly, belittling terms are used to describe groups of people, those terms can make discrimination seem O.K.”
Despite the Democrats’ efforts, the amendment seeking to retain the term made it into the House appropriations bill. The Senate version does not include a similar provision. When the bills are reconciled in the coming weeks, lawmakers should consider if fighting to preserve an anachronistic and offensive term is worthwhile.
Right-wing media have repeatedly mocked the attempts to move toward more accurate language by dismissing them as actions from “the PC police,” as Fox's Brian Kilmeade did on March 31. Fox's Neil Cavuto ridiculed the notion that calling someone an “illegal alien” could be dehumanizing, while hosts of the show Fox & Friends have praised their colleague's use of the term on live television and used it just moments before supposedly celebrating the contributions of Hispanics in the United States.