Library of Congress changes "illegal alien" to "noncitizen"

Thanks to some complaints lodged by students at Dartmouth it is now officially canon in the United States Library of Congress that the term illegal aliens should no longer be used to apply to aliens in the country illegally. No… I know what you’re thinking, but I’m actually not making this up. (Washington Times)

The Library of Congress is no longer using the heading “illegal aliens” in bibliographic records, thanks to a request from Dartmouth College students.

Working with library staff at the Ivy League school, members of a Dartmouth coalition for immigration reform petitioned the Library of Congress in 2014 to replace the subject heading with a more accurate and less offensive term.

Officials concluded that the meaning of “aliens” is often misunderstood and should be replaced with “noncitizens,” and that the phrase “illegal aliens” has become pejorative. The heading “illegal aliens” is being replaced by “noncitizens” and “unauthorized immigration.”

The official announcement is available at the Library of Congress website and it goes into a bit more detail. Rather than just admitting that they are kowtowing to the demands of the SJW and the forces of political correctness, the Library is careful to point out that they’re just avoiding any confusion which readers might experience if you thought they meant extraterrestrials were smuggling in Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters without paying the appropriate import tax.

The heading Aliens is one of the oldest headings in Library of Congress Subject Headings, having appeared in the first edition of Subject Headings Used in the Dictionary Catalogues of the Library of Congress (published in parts between 1910 and 1914), the precursor to today’s LCSH. According to the current scope note for the heading, it refers to “persons who are not citizens of the country in which they reside.” The heading has been somewhat problematic over time because the word aliens has several dictionary definitions, one of which corresponds to the LCSH scope note and another that means beings from another planet. Because of the resulting confusion, PSD decided that it would be useful to reconsider the heading Aliens during its reconsideration of Illegal aliens.

This is, of course, nonsense. If one were to sit down and count the number of homonyms in the entire Subject Headings document they would probably require an entire sub-index of their own. Particularly when paired with the word “illegal” the odds of there being any confusion are vanishingly small. But even that doesn’t cover the extent of the linguistic problems here for an institution with the word “library” in their name. If you’re going to substitute one word for an existing phrase it should be at least an equal match, if not one which provides even more clarification. The choice of “noncitizen” (which really should be hyphenated to begin with) is far too general. Any person in the country legally who is not a citizen – e.g. green card holders or those with tourist or student visas – is technically a non-citizen but there is zero pejorative connotation associated with the term. Lumping them in with illegal aliens is not only problematic in terms of definitions but offensive to those who follow our laws as well.

Of course, they already offered a second explanation in the opening summary. The term has become pejorative. Oh, really? Do you suppose that illegal alien has a pejorative ring to it? Perhaps that’s because we’re discussing individuals who are criminals. While we’re on the subject, there are all sorts of other terms in the criminal justice system that sound rather pejorative. Submitted for your consideration, the Library of Congress should henceforth and forthwith implement the following revisions:

  • Rapists shall now be referred to as unintended copulation initiators.
  • Murderers will be referenced as premature inhumation operatives.
  • Thieves are to be listed as property misallocation agents.

Please get back to us when those are all implemented and I’m sure will come up with some others for you.