New York Times (Editorial)
June 20, 2016
In 2014, Melissa Padilla, an immigrant from Mexico, was dismayed to find while doing research for a paper at Dartmouth College that all articles about undocumented students were archived under the heading “illegal aliens.” When she led a group of students to ask the college library to consider phasing out the term, they expected, at best, to make a statement at the campus. But their request triggered a political fight that has drawn in lawmakers engaged in the immigration debate.
Dartmouth librarians told the students that indexing terms were set by the Library of Congress, but agreed to raise their concern with the American Library Association.
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.”
On June 9, as House members were debating the appropriations bill, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Florida, urged her colleagues to vote down the provision. “The suggestion that in the 21st century, the term ‘illegal alien’ is an appropriate one, is similar to suggesting that we continue to use the term ‘Negro,’” she said.
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.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com