Wick Communications

Taking “illegal” out of immigration

In Associated Press on 4 Apr 2013 at 4:12 pm
This 2007 photo is just one of many in our newspapers that referenced the fight to contain illegal immigrants. Courtesy: Cochise County Attorney's Office

This 2007 photo is just one of many in our newspapers that referenced the fight to contain illegal immigrants. Courtesy: Cochise County Attorney’s Office

This week, the Associated Press changed its entry on “illegal immigration.” It should have happened a long, long time ago, in my opinion.

The crux of the change is that “illegal” is now only to refer to the action, not the people. In other words, there is no such thing as an “illegal.” Here’s a snippet from the AP bulletin to subscribers:

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. …

Previously, the AP allowed the term “illegal immigrant” to apply to people who entered the country illegally.

Using the word “illegal” to refer to a human being has long been a pet peeve of mine. “Anchor baby” is another one of those degrading terms that bugs me every time I see it. They are ethnocentric at the very least and mean-spirited as well. They also strikes me as racist. Have you ever heard a European immigrant referred to as an “illegal?” …

Interestingly, the Washington Times reports that our own President Barack Obama has used the term “illegal immigrant” 51 times while in office. (I’m not sure how the Times tracks that… Perhaps the newspaper searched for the term in written transcripts.) Interestingly, the Times says the term was first used by a president when Harry Truman used it in 1951 while speaking to the Congress on the Employment of Agricultural Workers in Mexico. It never crossed the lips of a president again, the Times says, until 1981, when Ronald Reagan used the phrase.

I know that some of us will disagree on national immigration policy and we may not see eye to eye on the plight of people who enter the country illegally. But I hope we agree that human beings deserve a modicum of respect when it comes to the semi-formal language we use in our news products. I hope you will note the change from AP and adjust your copy accordingly.



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