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Congressman Joaquin Castro

Representing the 20th District of Texas

CASTRO, TRI-CAUCUS URGE REMOVAL OF "ALIEN" PROVISION FROM APPROPRIATIONS LEGISLATION

May 16, 2016
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Second Vice Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), led a letter to the House Appropriations Committee, urging them to strike a provision from the FY2017 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill that would require the Library of Congress to use the terms “aliens” and “illegal aliens” in its subject headings. In March, the Library of Congress decided to replace the term “aliens” in its subject headings with “noncitizens,” and to replace the term “illegal alien” with “non-citizens” and “unauthorized immigration.” The Tri-Caucus – comprised of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) – also signed the letter.

“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,” said Rep. Castro. “We shouldn’t be using a harmful, dehumanizing term like ‘alien’ to categorize individuals who contribute so much to our country. In the past, as society has come to understand the pain certain words can cause communities, we’ve done the right thing and eliminated those terms from our acceptable vocabulary. The Appropriations Committee should continue that progress now, not move our nation backwards and unnecessarily perpetuate a negative stigma.”

“Words matter. Referring to an entire community as ‘illegal’ is dehumanizing and antiquated,” said CHC Chairwoman Linda T. Sánchez (CA-38). “If Republicans had it their way, they might still be referring to Mexicans as ‘wetbacks.’ Republicans should focus on more important things like passing a budget and resolving the financial crisis in Puerto Rico, rather than finding senseless ways to attack our community with derogatory language.”

In October of 2015, Congressman Castro introduced the Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Expression (CHANGE) Act to remove offensive and inflammatory language characterizing immigrants as “aliens” from federal law. Specifically, the CHANGE Act:

  • Changes the term “alien” in federal law to the term “foreign national”
  • Strikes the term “illegal alien” from federal law and replaces it with the term “undocumented foreign national”
  • Ensures all Executive Branch agencies do not use the term “alien” and “illegal alien” in signage and literature 

“Calling individuals ‘aliens’ is dehumanizing and unnecessary, which is why a panel convened by the Library of Congress decided to do away with the term,” said CAPAC Chairwoman Judy Chu (CA-32). “This was a common-sense decision that recognizes the power of words to shape our understandings of and relations to each other. It is therefore particularly perverse that there is language in the FY2017 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill that would enable Congress to force the use of this word against the Library’s wishes. I’m disappointed that Republicans are constantly seeking new ways to attack the dignity of immigrants instead of fixing our broken immigration system. I urge the Appropriations Committee to do the right thing and strike this harmful provision from the bill.”

“To require the Library of Congress to use pejorative and dated terms like ‘aliens’ and ‘illegal aliens’ when referring to any human being is offensive and disappointing,” said CBC Chairman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01). “These discriminatory terms dehumanize people and have no place in our society.”

Rep. Castro and the Tri-Caucus sent the letter to Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05), Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (NY-17), Legislative Branch Subcommittee Chairman Tom Graves (GA-14), and Legislative Branch Subcommittee Ranking Member Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23).

Text of the letter is included below. 


[BEGIN LETTER TEXT]
 
The Honorable Harold Rogers
Chairman                                                        
Committee on Appropriations  
United States Congress                                     
H-305, The Capitol 
Washington, DC 20515
 
The Honorable Nita Lowey                                
Ranking Member                                                        
Committee on Appropriations                                    
United States Congress                                                 
1016 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
 
The Honorable Tom Graves
Chairman                                                        
Legislative Branch Subcommittee
United States Congress                                     
HT-2, The Capitol 
Washington, DC 20515
 
The Honorable Debbie Wasserman Schultz                                
Ranking Member                                                        
Legislative Branch Subcommittee                                   
United States Congress                                                 
1016 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
 
Dear Chairmen Rogers and Graves and Ranking Members Lowey and Wasserman Schultz:
 
We are writing to express our disappointment in the FY2017 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill reported out of the subcommittee, which would require the Library of Congress to use the terms “aliens” and “illegal aliens” in the Library of Congress Subject Headings.
 
As you know, in response to public requests, including a resolution from the American Library Association, the Library of Congress convened a panel to discuss the use of the term “illegal alien” in their subject heading catalogs.  Following review, the panel determined that the term “aliens” would be revised to “noncitizens” and that “illegal aliens” is pejorative and would be revised to “noncitizens” and “unauthorized immigration.”  
 
This decision followed input from officials from different divisions of the Library of Congress as well as the Congressional Research Service.  This process was conducted in a comprehensive and thoughtful manner taking into account input from the community, stakeholders and experts within the Library of Congress.    
 
Terms and how they are defined by society change with time.  As meanings of words evolve with the times, so should our usage of those terms.  The Library of Congress recognizes that our nomenclature evolves, and has adjusted terms and subject headings accordingly in the past.  For example, the term for African Americans has evolved several times in the last 100 years.  Throughout the 1900’s, the Library of Congress used the term “Negroes”, which was then changed to “Blacks” and later to “Afro-Americans” and finally to “African Americans”.   
 
There have been similar updates to U.S. code to reflect our advancing nomenclature.  For example, the law has been changed to strike terms such as “lunatic” and “mentally retarded” from statute.  
 
Dated and dehumanizing terms such as “illegal alien” and “alien” have taken on a highly negative connotation and perpetuate the denigration of immigrant communities.  The Library of Congress, the Associated Press and other media outlets have all moved to modernize these terms to be more neutral and reflective of our present day vocabulary.  
 
It is particularly unfortunate and concerning that this provision was placed in an appropriations bill when this is a policy matter.  We urge the Appropriations Committee to strike this harmful provision from the bill.         
 
Sincerely,

Linda T. Sánchez
Chair, Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC)

G.K. Butterfield
Chair, Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)

Judy Chu
Chair, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC)
 
[END LETTER TEXT]

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