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Republicans Want to Bring Back ‘Illegal Alien’

Appropriations bill would require Library of Congress to continue using term

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said she hoped that lawmakers could "make a decision not to be the word police.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said she hoped that lawmakers could "make a decision not to be the word police.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

At issue was nearly $3.5 billion in spending for Capitol Police, lawmaker salaries, government printing and basic operations of the House for the next fiscal year.  

But the bulk of an hour of debate in Wednesday’s Appropriations markup was devoted to a two-word phrase the Library of Congress is trying to excise from its lexicon: “illegal alien.”  

The Legislative Branch subcommittee’s decision to insist that the federal library continue using the phrase prompted the panel’s ranking Democrat to vote against the appropriations bill.  

“We’re appropriators,” said Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who cast the lone no vote. “We’re supposed to be deciding how much money we allocate for each of these agencies. It is not our place to be debating the two halves of a particular term.”  

She said hoped that between now and the full committee markup hearing, lawmakers could “make a decision not to be the word police.”  

Chairman Tom Graves, R-Georgia, said the subcommittee was merely requiring the library to use words consistent with U.S. Code, which includes the terminology to describe immigrants in the country with out proper authorization.  

Graves suggested that if lawmakers had an issue with the term, they should make attempts to change the code’s language. The amendment, he stressed, was “just asking the library to maintain that consistency.”  

“I am pleased with the language we came up with,” Graves said.  

Activists claimed victory a few weeks back after swaying library staff to eliminate subject headings such as “aliens” and “illegal aliens,” markers that administrators decided should be replaced with “noncitizens” and “unauthorized immigration,” respectively.  

But last week, 20 House Republicans backed a bill by Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn, calling for re-instating the language.  

Rep. Sam Farr, a California Democrat, who kept his hand in the air in an effort to be called on by the chairman, told the panel the efforts were purely political, adding that the library was being petition by its users to make the change.  

“We shouldn’t be messing around on these things,” Farr said.  

Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., offered a compromise: Keep the term “illegal” but find something else for “alien” to stress that the people referred to under this term broke the law when they entered the country.  

“I don’t see them as aliens,” he said. “They didn’t land here on a spaceship.”  

The Legislative Branch budget provides $629 million for the library, which includes plans to move some of its facilities and modernization efforts. Those efforts were not discussed at the hearing.  

Congressional bickering notwithstanding, library staff were unable to put a dollar figure on how much it would cost to implement the anticipated changes.  

“Updating the catalog records is a nearly continuous and semi-automated process, so there is no way to dissect it enough to estimate a cost of updating one single heading,” a library spokeswoman said.  

Contact Rahman at and follow her on Twitter at @remawriter

Contact Rojas at or follow him on Twitter at @warojas.

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