Wall Street Journal
By Kristina Peterson
April 22, 2016
Congress isn’t going to overhaul the immigration system anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean they can’t fight about it in the meantime.
This week a panel of the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill funding the legislative branch spending for fiscal 2017 with a provision aimed at blocking the Library of Congress from changing its “aliens” and “illegal aliens” terminology.
The Library of Congress said last month that its Policy and Standards Division had recommended changing its subject headings, or search terms, “aliens” to “noncitizens” and removing “illegal aliens,” to be replaced by the terms “noncitizens” and “unauthorized immigration.”
The division had concluded “that the meaning of aliens is often misunderstood,” noting that it can also mean “beings from another planet” and that “the phrase illegal aliens has become pejorative,” according to a March 22 memo from the library.
The debate comes as immigration — and the terms used to describe immigrants — have taken on a central role in the 2016 presidential campaign. Presidential front-runner Donald Trump has promised to build a wall at the border to keep out “illegal immigrants,” while Democrat Hillary Clinton apologized for using that term and said she would stop using it, amid pressure from pro-immigrant groups to use alternative words such as “undocumented.”
The provision has the potential to derail the spending bill as it moves through the House. The issue came up in a meeting Thursday of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and lawmakers unhappy with the provision are likely to ramp up their opposition, an aide said.
“Any good done in this bill has been overshadowed by a political poison pill that puts the Legislative Branch bill squarely in the middle of our nation’s immigration debate,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) said when the bill cleared the subcommittee on Wednesday. “This bill puts the Library of Congress front and center on one of our nation’s most contentious and emotional political issues – in the midst of a presidential election year.”
Republicans said the provision was necessary to prevent “censorship” at the Library of Congress.
“The Library of Congress is undermining its credibility and ignoring its responsibility to provide the American people with forthright and factual admission to its many resources,” Rep. Mike Turner (R., Ohio) said in a written statement.
The library had initially turned down a formal request from Dartmouth College in the fall of 2014 to change “illegal aliens” to “undocumented immigrants.” After the American Library Association adopted a resolution at its midwinter meeting this year calling on the Library of Congress to change its subject headings, the library convened a meeting to discuss the terminology.
At a meeting in February, a group including officials from different parts of the Library of Congress and the Congressional Research Service agreed that “undocumented immigrants” was problematic because not all “undocumented” people are immigrants and many have some types of documents. The group instead recommended the altered terminology “noncitizens” and “unauthorized immigration.”
The measure currently in the spending bill effectively blocks the Library of Congress from changing its subject headings by requiring them to stick to terms consistent with federal law, which some Democrats have pushed to change. Last October, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D., Texas) introduced legislation that would change “alien” to “foreign national” and “illegal alien” to “undocumented foreign national” under federal law.
Last year, an immigration debate nearly derailed the annual defense policy bill. Conservative Republicans revolted over a nonbinding measure from Rep. Ruben Gallego (D., Ariz.) encouraging the Pentagon to review whether to allow some immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to enlist in the military. The House cleared the defense policy bill after passing an amendment removing the provision.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com