Thanks to Student Activists, the Library of Congress Will Stop Using the “Illegal Aliens” Subject Header

Lead Photo: Photo by RobertDodge / E+
Photo by RobertDodge / E+
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Despite the tweets, essays, and campaigns that explain why the term “illegal aliens” is a pejorative, it remains in use by many. But thanks to student activists, the Library of Congress will at least not be among those who use those ugly words. Thanks to the students, the institution will cease using “illegal aliens” as a subject heading.

Subject headings, which are used by most universities and large libraries in the country, are words or phrases that allow a user to find a topic. That means that this change will have a far-reaching effect and that it reinforces that there are better ways to refer to those who have come to the United States without documentation.

The change has been a long time coming. In 2014, the Dartmouth Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality, and DREAMers (CoFIRED) petitioned the Library of Congress to stop using the term and instead use “undocumented immigrant.” However, LOC rejected the request because it said the two terms were not interchangeable. Since then, more have joined CoFIRED and asked the Library of Congress to make the change, according to

So LOC held a panel to try to figure out how to move forward. Though it still took issue with the term “undocumented immigrant” because it didn’t accurately define all immigrants, it did decide to stop using the words “alien” and “illegal.” Instead, the subject heading “illegal alien” is now split up into two subjects: “non-citizens” and “unauthorized immigration.”

The change will start coming to affect in May.

Editor’s Note: The Library of Congress made these changes in 2016.