Lawmakers trade ‘hate,’ ‘censorship’ barbs in ‘illegal alien’ debate

The dome of the Library of Congress, topped by the Torch of Learning. Democrats and Republicans accused each other of hate and censorhip in the debate over a bill that would force the library to continue using the term “illegal alien” in its catalogs. (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress)

WASHINGTON – The House spent several hours in bitter debate Thursday over a Republican-backed bill that would force the Library of Congress to continue using the term “illegal alien” in its catalog instead of the library’s preferred “noncitizen.”

Democrats accused the GOP of “promoting hate” with the measure that is part of the fiscal 2017 legislative budget bill, which includes funding for the library.

“This bill picks a fight with librarians,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California. “In this bill, the Republicans in the House look like they’re doubling down on vilifying immigrant communities.”

But Republicans like Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, said the Library of Congress’ proposed change amounts to politically motivated “censorship” of a straightforward expression, and requires that Congress step in to halt it.

“The effort by Democrats to censor the factually correct term ‘illegal alien’ is just the latest example of our out-of-control PC culture on steroids,” said Steven Smith, Gosar’s spokesman. “Taxpayer dollars should never be used to fund this nonsense.”

The requirement that the Library of Congress keep the current term came down to nothing than a desire to see the library follow language used in the U.S. Code, said Rep. Tom Graves, R-Georgia, the sponsor of the appropriations bill.

“All we’ve done in this bill is say, ‘Hey, as you do your subject headings, make sure it’s consistent with the U.S. Code,'” Graves said during floor debate Thursday.

Democrats dismissed Republican claims that the term is in the federal code, calling it a “pejorative” and “dehumanizing” term that needs to be done away with.

“It pains me to even say the phrase ‘illegal alien’ out loud,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-California.

The Library of Congress noted the pejorative nature of the term when it announced the proposed change in March, but said that was not the main reason behind the move. The language change to the library’s catalogs, which was supported by several other library organizations, was done for the convenience of researchers.

But Republicans said it was not the library’s call to make.

They argued on the floor Thursday that the library needs to continue using terms consistent with the “laws of this land,” and that the place to make changes is in the U.S. Code, not in the library’s catalogs.

Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Georgia, pointed out that Congress has made similar changes in the past, like its move to delete the last reference to “Orientals” in the U.S. Code in December.

“Let’s go change it,” Woodall said of the “illegal aliens” phrase. “If you want to get rid of it, let’s go in and get rid of it. We do these things together, but we don’t do them by accusing one another of promoting racism and hate.”

But Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, noted that Congress had a chance to remove the language with amendments she tried to offer to the funding bill. Those amendments were blocked, and preliminary votes on the bill Thursday split mostly down party lines.

“My amendment that would have done just that only was defeated in the Appropriations Committee by one vote,” Wasserman Shultz said. “So this is not a slam dunk when it comes to your side of the aisle either.”

The House was expected to continue debate on the bill late into the evening Thursday, with a final vote possible Friday morning.