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Lawmakers Rebuke Library of Congress Over Dropping "Illegal Alien" Language

A trio of Texas Republican lawmakers says the U.S. Library of Congress is bowing to political pressure by eliminating the terms “illegal alien” and “alien” from its search and subject heading classifications.

U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas.

Three Texas Republicans in Washington have chastised the U.S. Library of Congress for eliminating the terms “illegal aliens” and “alien” from its search and subject heading classifications.

In a letter dated May 19 to acting librarian David S. Mao, U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith of San Antonio and John Culberson of Houston joined U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in accusing the library of bowing "to the political pressure of the moment.” U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, also signed on to the letter. 

The library announced last month that it would begin using the terms “noncitizens” and “unauthorized immigration” when referencing subjects dealing with undocumented immigrants and related topics, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The publication reported the library said the new terms were “more precise” and “less offensive.”

The Republicans said the descriptions are “statutory legal terms of art” that should not be replaced without Congressional approval.

“Such an action is beneath the dignity of the Library of Congress," they wrote. “Rather than engage in revisionist history, the Library should base its decisions on sound judgment, taking actual history, present facts, and future research efforts into account.”

In the letter to Mao, the four lawmakers argue the revised terms will burden “numerous facilities and the thousands of libraries nationwide” that rely on the Library of Congress, and they urge the institution reconsider.

Many immigrants and civil rights groups consider the terms “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant” derogatory, instead using “undocumented” to refer to a person living in the country without proper authorization. In 2013 the Associated Press announced it was changing its stylebook and using the term “illegal” to “describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.”

Some legal scholars have argued that using the term “illegal” is also incorrect because immigration is a civil, not a criminal, matter. They add that children brought to the country by their parents should not be considered “illegal” immigrants because they did not choose to enter the country without proper authorization.

The U.S. Citizen Immigration and Immigration Services and Customs and Border Protection use the term "alien" to refer to legal and undocumented immigrants.  

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