After a two-year push by a group of college students, the U.S. Library of Congress says it will no longer use the term “illegal alien” as a bibliographical term, opting instead for less offensive terms like “noncitizen” or “unauthorized” immigration when categorizing material.

A resolution sent to the Library of Congress by the American Library Association, with whom the student group was partnered, stated, “[R]eferring to undocumented immigrants as ‘illegal’ is increasingly viewed as dehumanizing, offensive, inflammatory, and even a racial slur.”

In response, the Library of Congress announced that “the heading ‘illegal aliens’ will therefore be canceled and replaced by two headings, Noncitizens and unauthorized immigration, which may be assigned together to describe resources about people who illegally reside in the country.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that the complaint originated with a group of students from Dartmouth College known as CoFIRED (Dartmouth Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality and Dreamers) who partnered with the American Library Association in 2014 to send a petition to the Library of Congress.

“After seeing the dehumanizing word [illegal alien] so many times,” said Melissa Aracely Padilla, a Dartmouth student who only recently because a legal resident, “I wondered if that’s how Dartmouth thought of undocumented students… I think a university should be free of the racist phrases I heard growing up.”

So Padilla contacted fellow members of CoFIRED, and they made their appeal to the Library of Congress in 2014.

The Library of Congress had established the catalog subject heading “aliens, illegal” in 1980 and revised it to “illegal aliens” in 1993. But the phrase has fallen out of favor with the news media in recent years, and the Library of Congress decided to follow suit:

“The phase illegal aliens has taken on a pejorative tone in recent years, and in response, some institutions have determined that they will cease to use it. For example, in April 2014 the Associated Press announced that illegal would not be used as a descriptor for any individual.”

Dennis Hernandez, co-director of CoFIRED, supports the Library’s action as an example for others to follow:

“We are calling on politicians and the news media to continue the precedent set by the Library of Congress. Now is the time for all to recognize that referring to undocumented immigrants as ‘illegals’ is offensive.”

Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates stricter enforcement of immigration laws, called the change unnecessary, since entering the country without authorization is by definition illegal:

“It’s giving in to political correctness. ‘Illegal alien’ is a proper legal term.”

He also asserted that the Library of Congress, whose subject headings are used by libraries nationwide and internationally, “is an important institution, and they ought to have some kind of allegiance to accuracy in language and precision.”


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