Library of Congress to Delete “Illegal Aliens” From its Subject Headings

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With the conclusion of the most recent presidential election, tensions surrounding immigration and immigration reforms are at an all time high. Everything from deportation laws to the language that is used to describe illegal immigrants is being brought into question. As a matter of fact the Library of Congress has recently come under fire for the use of the term “illegal aliens” in their subject headings.

According to the Library of Congress website, subject headings are a way of classifying all of the material in the vast library. Instead of separating information by title or author, they separate information by subject, so that it is easier to find related topics by various authors. For this reason these subject headings are more effective for research, and many libraries around the world have adopted similar systems.

While this system is undoubtedly practical, there is some controversy surrounding some of the subject headings. The problem with putting thing into categories is that some subjects can be misrepresented. Specifically, the subject heading “illegal aliens” is being brought into question. The New York Times recently published an article featuring a Dartmouth student, Melissa Padilla, who along with some of her schoolmates began petitioning the Library of Congress to remove this term from its subject headings. Padilla herself was an immigrant, and she feels strongly that the term “illegal aliens” criminalizes and dehumanizes people who are just in search of a better future.

After hearing Padilla’s argument, the Library of Congress agreed to remove the word, and instead use the terms “noncitizens” and “unauthorized immigrants.” However, conservative politicians in the United States Congress have quickly sprung into action to try and put a stop to this. They said that using any other term to describe these immigrants would be legally inaccurate, and that the library is required to release accurate information.

I believe congress’s movement to stop the LOC from getting rid of the term “illegal alien” is unjust, and they are just using the language as a way to oppress a group of people. It is interesting that the government never interfered when the library got rid of the subject headings “negro” and “retard,” but are so up in arms about getting rid of the term “illegal alien.” The replacement terms that the Library of Congress proposed seem to be accurate and representative of this group of people, but at a time when the fight over immigration is so heated, conservatives do not feel that they can budge on any issue whatsoever.

There has also been problems with other subject headings in the past and present. For example, the proper subject heading for American Indians or Native Americans has long been disputed. In reality, it is most accurate and respectful to use the specific tribe name to describe each group, but White Americans try to use broad category names to fit them all into one group. Other conflicts with subject heading as I mentioned before involved the removal of the terms “negro” and “retard.” Ultimately, subject headings are the best way to organize information, but we have to be wary when trying to fit human beings into categories.