Library of Congress continues work on scrubbing "illegal alien" from the records

Back in March we talked about the decision by the Library of Congress to stop using “offensive terms” like illegal alien to refer to, er… illegal aliens. Shortly thereafter, Republicans in Congress moved to attach language to the pending appropriations bill which would require the Library of Congress to stick to terminology as it exists in current federal law. But since it hasn’t passed yet, the Library is moving forward with the changes and keeping up the debate in the media. (New York Times)

“There is no other way to put this: the library has bowed to the political pressure of the moment,” Republicans wrote in a May 10 letter to David S. Mao, the acting librarian of Congress. The letter was written by Representatives Lamar Smith and John Culberson, both of Texas, and Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Republicans who have long advocated stricter enforcement of immigration laws.

The House added a provision on June 10 to the legislative branch appropriations bill that would require the library to retain terminology used in federal law, including “alien.” Congress will move forward with the appropriations process when it reconvenes in September. In the meantime, the library is set to stop using “illegal alien,” although library officials are aware they may have to reverse their changes if the provision becomes law.

So first of all, they are moving forward with a bunch of administrative work in their records system knowing full well that as soon as Congress reconvenes in a couple of months they may have to turn around and undo all the changes they’re putting in place now. I know what you’re thinking… these are government workers. That’s really a non-story. Okay… fair enough. But while wasting money on redundant tasks which they know may be obsolete before they are finished is probably all in a day’s work in Washington, it’s generally the result of incompetence or sloppiness rather than outright defiance in the name of political correctness.

I also wanted to highlight the excuse given by one of the language reform champions at the heart of this battle. She argues that these changes are no big deal because nobody complained when they altered descriptive terms in the past. (Emphasis added)

Gayle Osterberg, the communications director of the Library of Congress, said this was the first time Congress has intervened with the routine relabeling, which the library does every year to keep thousands of catalogs current. Ms. Osterberg noted that there was no legislative opposition, for example, when “Negro” and “retard” were removed from subject headings.

Seriously? You’re going to try to draw a direct line between “illegal alien” and either “Negro” or “retard?” I’m not sure of the exact date when “negro” went out of vogue, but it was replaced in the English language for both casual use and legal assignment by less offensive and more accurate terminology. There may have been a time when “retard” was considered scientifically accurate, but it was always a pejorative at the same time. The fact is that “alien” is not an insult. It’s a legal term for someone who is not a native of or legal, naturalized citizen of any country. If you sneak into Brazil to watch the Olympics without the proper documentation, you too will be an “alien.” The world illegal should stand on its own with no defense required.

Assuming they get their way at the Library of Congress, this sort of Alinsky oriented language control will be a good fit with the Obama administration’s ongoing efforts. You’ll recall that the Justice Department decided this year that they don’t want to refer to people who spent time in prison as “felons” or “convicts.” That’s an admirable addition to the efforts of the White House to replace the use of the word “criminal” with Justice Involved Individual. No word yet on whether or not murders will soon be referred to a funeral industry stimulus agents.

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