Sen. Ted Cruz goes after Library of Congress for dropping term ‘illegal alien’

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After taking on Big Bird over his Covid-19 vaccination, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is going after the Library of Congress for abandoning the use of the term “illegal alien” as a subject heading for organizing materials.

The Library of Congress confirmed Thursday that it will change the subject headings “aliens” to “noncitizens” and “illegal aliens” to “noncitizens” and “illegal immigration.”

The headings are used to catalog materials at the library in Washington.

Cruz protested the changes in a letter dated Wednesday and posted on his website. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., also signed the letter. The library had originally sought to make the changes in 2016.

In the letter, the senators blame the changes on the Biden administration and a “progressive preference to control language and take up arms on a ‘political battleground.’”

“This decision is nothing but a politically-motivated and Orwellian attempt to manipulate and control language,” the letter says.

Cruz and Braun argue that the word “alien” has been used for years in historical documents and that “illegal alien” appears in the Immigration and Naturalization Act and has been used by the Supreme Court many times.

In addition, the terms match what is used in many materials in the library, making the materials easier to find, they say.

The Library of Congress said in an emailed statement that “illegal alien” and “illegal immigration” will be kept as cross-references but that the new headings are “broader” and that they “more accurately and clearly refer to the issues they cover and will ensure users find library materials regardless of the many different terms that have been used over time.”

Those who have pushed to remove the “alien” language say there is precedent for changing terms over time. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, has repeatedly sponsored legislation to drop the word “alien” from laws and government documents. He has pointed to examples in which the government has removed words previously used in statutes, such as “lunatic” and “mentally retarded.”

The word “alien,” Castro has pointed out, is also now used to refer to creatures from outer space.

“Words matter, particularly in the context of an issue as contentious as immigration,” he has said. 

At the start of his administration, President Joe Biden issued a memo to federal immigration agencies to update their language “in response to the vision set by the administration.”

“We enforce our nation’s laws while also maintaining the dignity of every individual with whom we interact,” the memo said. “The words we use matter and will serve to further confer that dignity to those in custody.”

The American Library Association backed the changes in a statement. The association’s president, Patricia “Patty” M. Wong, said the words being replaced are “outdated and dehumanizing.” 

Wong said the update “better reflects common terminology and respects library users and workers from all backgrounds.” 

“It also reflects the core value of social justice for ALA members, who have been at the vanguard of this change for years,” she said. 

Last week, Cruz blasted “Sesame Street’s” beloved Big Bird after the giant yellow character announced in a tweet that he had been vaccinated against Covid-19.

“Government propaganda…for your 5 year old!” Cruz tweeted back

The Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, is considered the main research arm of Congress and is home to the U.S. Copyright Office.

The library’s attempt to stop using the words in 2016 set off a political storm. Conservatives forced the library to cancel its plans and tucked a provision into a spending bill that required the library to do more research and issue a report on using the subject headings. 

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Suzanne Gamboa is a national reporter for NBC Latino and NBCNews.com

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