Democrat Rep. Joaquín Castro criticized Republicans for blocking the Library of Congress from dropping the use of the term "alien" to refer to immigrants, saying the refusal demonstrates how the GOP became the party of Trump.
"A lot of Republicans are sitting around wondering how their party became the party of Donald Trump. This is how you start to get there, by forcing an institution to use language that is dehumanizing to people," Castro said Thursday.
On Wednesday evening, a Republican-led committee rejected a plea from Castro, D-Texas, to amend a bill forcing the Library of Congress to continue using the terms “alien” and “illegal alien,” which the Library of Congress had planned to drop.
The decision essentially prevented the amendment from getting a vote on the House floor. The House did vote on a legislative maneuver Castro attempted. He tried to keep the bill from being considered with that language, saying its inclusion didn't comply with legislative rules on unfunded mandates, but he lost that effort on a vote of 231-170.
The Library of Congress uses the term to refer to immigrants regardless of whether they arrived or stayed in the country legally or illegally.
“House Republicans are poised to make history by for the first time ever interfering in the Library of Congress’ subject headings processes to preserve a prejudicial term that’s particularly offensive to Hispanics,” Castro said in testimony to the House Rules Committee Wednesday evening.
“I believe the term alien is not only offensive but also dehumanizing. These folks may not be U.S. citizens, but they’re not from outer space. They are human beings,” Castro said.
The rebuff follows Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s widely criticized reference to federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel as "Mexican" even though he was born in the U.S. and Trump calling into question Curiel's ability to do his job because of his Mexican heritage. Curiel is presiding over a class-action lawsuit against Trump University.
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That has put several Republicans in the uncomfortable place of having to defend their support of him and take a position on his comments. House Speaker Paul Ryan called Trump's language textbook racism, but said he would still support him.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referenced debate over the issue in her weekly news conference as she criticized Trump and Republicans. The GOP has "comfortably surrendered to their new standard-bearer and his discrimination agenda because it is an agenda House Republicans have shared," Pelosi said.
"On the floor of the House they are trying to require the Library of Congress to use dehumanizing terms when they refer to undocumented immigrants in our country," she said.
On the House floor, Rep. Roger Woodall, R-Ga., argued that changing the law was not in the jurisdiction of the appropriations committee.
Woodall encouraged changing the language by changing the U.S. Code, something that Castro has proposed in a separate bill. He suggested he'd be supportive of such changes, but said "we do these things better together but we don't do these things by accusing one another of racism and hate."
She complained that rather than addressing the issue of Flint, Michigan's contaminated water problem "we are too busy on the floor trying to use the Library of Congress to use (a) dehumanizing term."
A previous attempt to change the bill was made by Democrats in the Appropriations Committee. Four Republicans joined them in supporting the change, but the effort fell a vote short of approval.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington, a member of the Rules Committee, said the amendment had been duly considered by the Appropriations Committee and questioned whether the Rules Committee should “second guess” its decision. Castro responded that it happens all the time in the committee.
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According to Castro, the Library of Congress makes thousands of changes to its subject headings every year. Last year it added 4,934 new subject headings, without interference from Congress.
President Barack Obama signed into law last month a bill that removes the terms “Negro” and “Oriental” from the Federal Code.