House Republicans used an anti-immigrant term and these two Democratic leaders weren't having it
Republican efforts to derail the landmark Dream and Promise Act in the House Judiciary Committee thankfully crashed and burned on Wednesday, but not before they used dehumanizing “alien” terminology to refer to immigrants during debate. It was made all the more offensive considering many undocumented youth were in the room and listening. Two Democratic leaders, themselves immigrants, also heard it and were not silent.
“I will tell you that when I came here when I was 16 years old by myself and I’m standing in the line at the airport and somebody says, ‘Somebody go take care of those aliens,’ I understood exactly what that meant to me,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington. “I have thought about that term. I wish we could change that term in the law because I don’t think it’s an appropriate way to deal with things.”
Florida Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell also heard it, but first acknowledged the presence of undocumented youth. “First of all, welcome to all of you … this is your House,” she said. “You have entered the People’s House. You are Americans except in paper, and we will make sure, that by the end of this hearing, we pass the Dreamer, TPS, and Venezuelan TPS bills through committee. So thank you for being here with us, and I apologize for any insulting comments.”
She then addressed the committee’s Republican members: “I just want to also remind my colleagues across the aisle, when you use language, like ‘illegal aliens,’ I would like for you to just take one moment and see how everyone reacts to that language. I am an immigrant, I am not an extraterrestrial. No one here is an ‘alien.’”
Words—and representation— matter. “No human being is illegal,” Jayapal continued, “and I would just urge that we continue to use the word ‘undocumented’ when we’re talking about people who do not have papers and certainly, in this context, people who are American in every way except for that piece of paper.”