New Law Strikes ‘Derogatory and Antiquated’ Terms from Federal Law Books

A bill recently signed into law strikes words from federal law books such as “Negro,” “American Indian,” and “Oriental.” The term “illegal aliens” is still being debated in Congress.

Legislation recently signed into law by President Obama strikes words from federal law books such as “Negroes, Spanish-speaking, Orientals, and Indians” and replaces them with “African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, or Hispanics.”

The changes impact Title 42 of the US Code which consists of federal laws that deal with public health, social welfare and civil rights.

The sponsor of the bill (H.R. 4238), Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY) hailed the bill in particular for removing the term “Oriental” as one that is insulting and offensive to Asian Americans.

In a statement, Meng said, “The term ‘Oriental’ has no place in federal law, and at long last this insulting and outdated term will be gone for good. No longer will any law of the United States refer to Asian Americans in such an offensive way, and I applaud and thank President Obama for signing my bill to get rid of this antiquated term. Many Americans may not be aware that the word ‘Oriental’ is derogatory. But it is an insulting term that needed to be removed from the books, and I am extremely pleased that my legislation to do that is now the law of the land.”

Not all people of Asian descent agree with the Congresswoman apparently. In this editorial from the LA Times, Jayne Tsuchiyama, a doctor of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, says that, “Apparently Asians are supposed to feel demeaned if someone refers to us as Orientals. Literally, it means of the Orient or of the East, as opposed to of the Occident or of the West. Last I checked, geographic origin is not a slur.”

You can decide for yourself which of these now banned descriptive terms are offensive. The complete list of terms being blacklisted per the language in the new law are: “Negro, Puerto Rican, American Indian, Eskimo, Oriental, or Aleut or is a Spanish speaking individual of Spanish descent.”

The term “illegal aliens” is still being debated in Congress as one that would be allowed to remain on the books.

House Republicans are trying to stop the Library of Congress from removing the word “illegal aliens” from legislative headings in favor of words such as “noncitizen.” The Library’s position is that the term “illegal aliens” has a pejorative meaning and must no longer be used.

The House Appropriations Committee, however, passed a spending bill for 2017 recently that would block the Library of Congress from continuing the practice. House Republicans say that the Library should simply be consistent with US Code.

Perhaps a law banning the description “illegal aliens” will be the next one in this realm, but for now, it is not among the words deemed improper in this new law.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.