The Associated Press has done away with the term “illegal immigrant” as part of their Stylebook, saying that the term “illegal” should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.
The discussion over the proper term to describe someone living in the country without legal residence has been debated in newsrooms across the country for a while, with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist-turned-activist José Antonio Vargas calling for both The Associated Press and the New York Times to drop the term “illegal immigrant” in favor of “undocumented immigrant” – which has become popular among pro-immigrant groups and some news outlets, including Fox News Latino.
“The discussions on this topic have been wide-ranging and include many people from many walks of life,” said Kathleen Carroll, The Associated Press’ senior vice president and executive editor, according to the news wire’s blog. “Change is a part of AP Style because the English language is constantly evolving, enriched by new words, phrases and uses. Our goal always is to use the most precise and accurate words so that the meaning is clear to any reader anywhere.”
While the AP has done away with the controversial term, the new Stylebook entry does not include a word or phrase to replace it. Instead it calls on the use of “illegal” only in regards to immigration and that the terms llegal alien, an illegal, illegals or undocumented should not be used except in direct quotations.
The AP announcement drew approval and criticism from both sides of the immigration debate, with pro-immigrant groups praising the move as a step forward in journalism.
“It is really great to see the AP taking a stance in fair journalistic practices,” said Rinku Sen, the president of the racial justice organization The Applied Research Center. “It is a major developed that immigrant communities have been working on for a longtime.”
Restrictionist groups, however, claim the change is another move by the media to side with undocumented immigrants and the so-called “amnesty” movement.
“We’ve watched them actually play damage control for the crimes committed by these illegal immigrants and the amnesty movement,” said William Gheen of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC.
Restrictionist groups argue that the term “illegal alien” is in the U.S. legal code and that watering down the terms inserts a form of partiality in the reporting.
“They’re shaping these terms to fit this politically correct mold,” said Bob Dane, of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “What they’re really doing is interjecting a form of bias in their reporting.”
The Associated Press last April defended its choice at the time of the “illegal immigrant” terminology, as opposed to “undocumented,” which they argued made a person’s illegal presence in the country appear to be a matter of minor paperwork.
“Many illegal immigrants aren’t “undocumented” at all; they may have a birth certificate and passport from their home country, plus a U.S. driver’s license, Social Security card or school ID,” Carroll wrote last year. “What they lack is the fundamental right to be in the United States.”
On Tuesday, soon after the announcement of the AP’s change of terminology, the New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan announced that the newspaper would also be reviewing its use of the term “illegal immigrant.”
“I hope the AP’s change puts the onus on the New York Times to make the change themselves,” said Sen, from The Applied Research Center. “The AP is now reflecting these journalistic changes happening at a local level.”
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