Republicans in Congress are insistent on continuing to use the term “illegal immigrant” — even though it’s considered offensive by many immigrants and advocates because of its negative connotation.
The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee approved a bill this week that would require the Library of Congress to use the term “illegal immigrants,” reversing its recent decision to stop using that phrase in its search terms and cataloging.
Last month, the Library of Congress announced it would stop using the term “illegal alien” to describe someone who is living in the country without permission, explaining the term has “taken on a pejorative tone” and citing the fact that media outlets like the Associated Press no longer use it. Instead, the Library said it would start using the more neutral terms “noncitizens” and “unauthorized immigration.”
We shouldn’t be using a harmful, dehumanizing term.
The bill to restore the use of the term at the Library of Congress, which was pushed by Tea Party lawmakers, narrowly passed in a 25–24 committee vote.
Appropriations Committee Democrats like Rep. Debbie Wasserman (D-FL) argued that the Library should be allowed to choose its own “subject headings without political influence.”
“We live in a nation of immigrants, folks who have come to the United States to work hard and build better lives for themselves and for their families,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), who introduced a bill last year to remove “illegal alien” from all official U.S. documents, said in a statement. “We shouldn’t be using a harmful, dehumanizing term like ‘alien’ to categorize individuals who contribute so much to our country.”
The controversial use of the terms “illegal alien” and the synonymous term “illegal immigrant” has long been a polarizing way for right-wing opponents and conservatives to describe undocumented immigrants. And many lawmakers have co-opted the phrase to drive political narratives: In a 2005 memo, Republican strategist Frank Luntz called on the GOP to publicly use the term “illegal immigration” as a way to push for border security.
The Dehumanizing History Of The Words We’ve Used To Describe ImmigrantsImmigration by CREDIT: AP Photo The word ” alien” will no longer appear in California’s labor code because it could be…thinkprogress.orgA growing number of cities and states have gotten rid of the terms “illegal immigrants” and “illegal aliens” in official government documents. California’s Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed legislation last year, for example, that removes the word “alien” from labor codes because it could be seen as disparaging to people not born in the United States.
Fewer journalists now use the term as well. A 2013 Pew Research report found that several news organizations, like the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press, had reduced or banned the use of the word “illegal immigrant.”
“It’s not just because it’s derogatory, but because it’s factually incorrect,” Ryan Eller, the executive director at the immigrant advocacy group Define American, told ThinkProgress when California got rid of the term last year. “Most of the time the shorter version ‘illegals’ is being used as a noun, which implies that a human being is perpetually illegal. There is no other classification that I’m aware of where the individual is being rendered as illegal as opposed to the actions of that individuals.”
The Republican Party has expressed an urgency to address immigration policy by strengthening border security. It’s unclear how this particular bill will accomplish that goal.