Use of term 'illegal alien' spurs partisan battle in Congress

A new fight over the term “illegal alien” brewed in the House of Representatives, where Democrats unsuccessfully sought to do away with the term, losing Tuesday in a 25-24 vote.

Republicans had included a provision in a spending bill that sought to restore the use of the term in the Library of Congress, which decided in March to drop it in subject headings and instead use “non-citizens” and “unauthorized immigration.”

The decision by the Library came after a campaign by college students and librarians across the country objecting to the term, which they argued is pejorative.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat, and several other Democrats in the House sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee asking the panel to remove the illegal alien provision from the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill. Members of the congressional Hispanic, Asian-Pacific, and black caucuses signed onto the letter.

Castro introduced a measure last fall to remove the term – which has been used in U.S. documents since the Naturalization Act of 1790 – from official U.S. regulations, laws and documents.

“It’s outdated,” Castro said in an interview with Fox News Latino. “The term is an anachronism. When we think of the term ‘alien’ now we think of people who are from outer space.”

Castro said the term is dehumanizing, and that the government’s continued use of it puts it behind the American public, which increasingly has abandoned it.

“Over time, the way we describe people can and does change,” said Castro, vice-chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Proponents of the term call the effort to end its use political correctness. They say the terms that critics use instead of “illegal alien” sugar-coat the status of people who are in the United States illegally.

The government also uses the word “alien” to refer to foreign-born people who are here legally.

Rep. Diane Black, a Tennessee Republican, introduced a stand-alone measure in April requiring the Library of Congress to return to using the term “illegal alien.”

“As the name implies, Congress has a proper oversight role with the Library of Congress,” said Black in a statement to Fox News Latino. “By stripping the use of the terms ‘alien’ and ‘illegal alien’ from its subject headings, the Library has chosen to bend its language to the whims of leftist groups and mask the grave threat that illegal immigration poses to our economy and our national security."

She added, "Congress must use every tool at its disposal to stop the Library of Congress from engaging in this political correctness run amok.”

In a letter to the House Committee that dealt with whether to move forward with the budget provision, Castro said the move to drop the term from official government use was not without precedent.

“As meanings of words evolve with the times, so should our usage of those terms,” the letter says. “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 1900s, the Library of Congress used the term ‘Negroes,’ which was then changed to ‘Blacks’ and later to ‘Afro-Americans’ and finally to ‘African Americans.’”

Conservatives were angered by the Library of Congress' move to drop the term "alien" and sought the provision, which was added to legislation funding House and Senate operations and congressional agencies like the library.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.