Library of Congress Will No Longer Use the Term “Illegal Aliens”


In recent years, the term “illegal aliens” has increasingly been replaced by “undocumented immigrants.” In April, the phrase made headlines when the Library of Congress branded it offensive and said it would no longer be using it as a bibliographical term.

It wasn’t the end of the matter. More than 20 Republican members of Congress have since proposed legislation that would prevent the library removing the words “aliens” and “illegal aliens” from subject headings.

Hand with illegal alien writen on it

At Peek and Toland, PLLC, we are acutely aware of the rapidly changing nature of immigration and the fact terms that may have been commonly used a few years ago are now more hurtful and offensive to immigrants. We detail the rapidly changing nature of immigration here.

Why Did the Library of Congress Bar the Term Illegal Aliens?

The change was originally the response to a campaign from a group of students from Dartmouth College, who urged the Library of Congress to ditch the term.

The American Library Association joined forces with the group which is known as CoFIRED, for the Dartmouth Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality, and Dreamers. Although the action was only taken this year, the original request was made back in 2014. Some of the students who were from immigrant backgrounds said they found the term “illegal alien” to be racist.

The Los Angeles Times reported on how The Library of Congress established the catalog subject heading “aliens, illegal” more than 30 years ago in 1980 and changed it to “illegal aliens” in 1993.

It’s still a term that is used by politicians but it’s one that has fallen out of favor with the news media in recent years. Associated Press stopped using it in 2014.

An executive summary that was drawn up by the library in March noted the phrase has increasingly taken a “pejorative tone” in recent years.

Some news organizations made the change as well, including The Los Angeles Times, which no longer uses “illegal” to describe people but does use the term “illegal immigration.”

A bill that was introduced in the House in April sought to prevent the library jettisoning the term. The Blaze reported that it doesn’t force the Library to specifically use the phrases, but it mandates it to “continue using the term ‘illegal alien’ just as they were previously,” Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) said.

The library would retain the headings “Aliens” and “Illegal Aliens” in addition to related headings in the same way as they were in effect during 2015, the bill states.

If you are an undocumented immigrant, you may be facing deportation or other issues. It’s important to seek the advice of an experienced Austin immigration lawyer. Many of our success stories involve cancellation of removal. You can read about them here.

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