AP Stylebook nixes "illegal immigrant"

The AP stylebook announced Tuesday that it would no longer use "illegal" to describe people, only actions

Published April 2, 2013 8:08PM (EDT)

    (via Colorlines)
(via Colorlines)

The AP Stylebook announced on Tuesday that it would no longer use the term "illegal immigrant" or use "illegal" to describe a person. Instead, new style guidelines reserve use of "illegal" to describe an action "such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally."

The move comes more than a year after Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, undocumented immigrant and activist Jose Antonio Vargas pushed news behemoths The New York Times and the Associated Press to drop the term. The Applied Research Center and the organization's affiliated-website Colorlines also started a campaign called "Drop the i-word" to push politicians and media outlets to stop using the racially charged term for immigrants without legal standing in the United States.

It seems their efforts paid off.

Reached for comment, Vargas told Poynter.org: “This was inevitable. This is not about being politically correct.”

“What I hope is this is just the beginning of a conversation for newsrooms across America,” Vargas said. He added that he was interested to see how other major news outlets and editors -- particularly New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, who wrote the term is “clear and accurate” last year -- respond to the style change.

More from the Associated Press on the decision:

The discussions on this topic have been wide-ranging and include many people from many walks of life. (Earlier, they led us to reject descriptions such as “undocumented,” despite ardent support from some quarters, because it is not precise. A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence.)

A number of people felt that “illegal immigrant” was the best choice at the time. They also believed the always-evolving English language might soon yield a different choice and we should stay in the conversation.

Also, we had in other areas been ridding the Stylebook of labels. The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of schizophrenic, for example.

And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to “illegal immigrant” again.

We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance.

So we have.

In her release on the change, senior vice president and executive editor Kathleen Carroll explained: "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."

The updated entry in full:

illegal immigration Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegals or undocumented.

Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.

Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.



By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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