Library of Congress Abandons “Illegal Alien” - Define American

Featured Blog post

Library of Congress Abandons “Illegal Alien”

Mar. 31, 2016, Washington, D.C. – Through our #wordsmatter campaign, we work with media outlets and political leaders to encourage use of language toward immigrants that is accurate and humane. We’re thrilled that we are not alone in this effort to educate and modernize the way in which our country’s most high-profile people and institutions communicate.

Thanks to Dartmouth College’s Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality and DREAMers (CoFIRED), the Library of Congress has changed its subject headings to replace the term “illegal aliens,” with the more neutral “noncitizens” and “unauthorized immigration” in bibliographic records.

“It’s such an incredible victory and they’re now even more committed,” Najera said of the students of CoFIRED.

Najera, originally from Mexico, was undocumented for more than a decade, and she takes the effort to discontinue use of terms like “illegal alien” personally.

“It reminds me of my own experience and as a child feeling demeaned by it,” Najera said. “People don’t understand how this term is dehumanizing and pejorative and one of the reasons why I want to change this language. In today’s world it’s usually signaling Mexican, so it’s racialized in a way I find uncomfortable, alarming and disquieting.” Najera now teaches at Drake University, but still keeps in touch with her former students.

The Library of Congress agreed that the phrase “illegal aliens” has taken on a pejorative tone in recent years, and in response, many institutions, organizations and media outlets (notably, the Associated Press) have ceased use of the term to describe individuals.

The heading “aliens” is one of the oldest in the Library of Congress subject headings, with the first use of the word dating back to 1910.

For a full list of media outlets and political leaders who have committed to fairness in their depiction of undocumented Americans, please refer to our list on

We are thrilled with the Library of Congress’s landmark decision, and hope these actions encourage others to consider removing phrases like“illegal aliens” from their conversations and content.

Let's Talk

Create change, one story at a time.