In the midst of what should be a relatively innocuous conversation about legislative spending, Congress has rekindled the clash over illegal immigration. This March, the Library of Congress ceased usage of the term “illegal alien,” arguing that it is demeaning. Republicans, bless ‘em, want the term to be reinstated.

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According to The Hill, the GOP is “trying to reverse a decision made by the Library...[to] replace the phrase with ‘noncitizens’ or ‘unauthorized immigration.’” Moreover, the party demands that the use of “illegal alien” be mandated in the new bill determining Library funding. Democrats, “led by members of the Congressional Hispanic, Asian Pacific American, and Black caucuses” vehemently protest this measure.

“‘Dated and dehumanizing terms such as ‘illegal alien’ and ‘alien’ have taken on a highly negative connotation and perpetuate the denigration of immigrant communities,’ Reps. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), and G.K. Butterfield wrote in [a letter to members of the House Appropriations Committee] on Monday.

Democrats’s objections foreshadow debate that may follow the bill when it reaches the House floor for a vote.”

This is not the first time that Republicans have fussed over the Library’s change in immigration terminology. Last month Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) introduced a bill requiring the institution to readopt the pejorative and antiquated phrase to which her party clings.

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“Hopefully this bill will give Washington the push needed to stop thinking up the most politically correct ways to describe illegal immigration and start thinking about solutions to address it,” Black said after bringing the bill forward.

It’s almost as if language and action are inherently unrelated to each other!

In the meantime, Democrats have been pushing to weed out all racist and derogatory terminology from federal text. Just last week they “sent legislation to President Obama that eliminates remaining use of words like ‘Oriental’ and ‘Negro’ in federal law.”

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Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) has also suggested less damning terms for undocumented immigrants: “foreign nationals” or “undocumented foreign nationals.” His proposed legislation would banish the word “alien” from all of federal law.

How we refer to people generally indicates how we will treat them. But then, everyone involved in this dispute—including and perhaps especially those determined to keep “illegal alien” in circulation—seems aware of that.


Image via Getty.