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Libraries Become The Battleground Over Immigration Terminology

In March, the Library of Congress announced that it would no longer use the term "illegal alien" as a subject heading. The term would be replaced with "noncitizen" and "unauthorized immigration." This move was the result of a grassroots campaign spearheaded by students and university librarians at Dartmouth College. The American Library Association (ALA) has also sided with the campaign to change terminology.

According to a recent article in Library Journal, the change has resulted in a major political battle. Now, the Stopping Partisan Policy at the Library of Congress Act has forced the Library of Congress to revert to the previous terminology.

Why Not Use The Term "Illegal Alien"?

On the surface, this is simply about how books are categorized based on subject matter.

However, the issue is not quite so simple. Those in favor of the change argue that the term "illegal alien" comes with negative connotations and is not accurate. The initial proposal stated that the term is "dehumanizing, inaccurate, offensive, and inflammatory." Major news organizations, including the Associated Press, have already committed to avoid referring to an individual as "illegal."

From a practical standpoint, there are also reasons for the change. The term "alien" has multiple meanings, as it could refer to individuals from other countries or beings from another planet. To prevent confusion, the Library of Congress already added "extraterrestrial beings" as a subject heading. The proposed change would be another step to preventing confusion when categorizing books.

Why Is The GOP Pushing Back?

Making changes to subject headings is nothing new. The Library of Congress makes thousands of similar changes every year, but most do not result in a political dispute. In this case, the bill to force the Library of Congress to revert to the use of "illegal alien" was initiated by Representative Diane Black and was supported by other Republicans.

Black stated: "By trading common-sense language for sanitized political-speak, they are caving to the whims of left-wing special interests and attempting to mask the grave threat that illegal immigration poses to our economy, our national security, and our sovereignty."

An additional objection is that the term matches the language in current federal laws, although it is only referenced twice in the Immigration and Nationality Act.

What Next?

Will there be further attempts to make changes in the Library of Congress? Will other institutions follow suit and avoid using terms like "illegal alien"?

The situation is complex, as is immigration law in general. At the law firm of Miley & Brown, we have been handling immigration law issues for decades. We know that change is constant, and there are always more changes to come. In the meantime, our attorneys are committed to helping immigrants through a variety of legal issues.

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