- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Three minority journalism groups are asking the American press to stop using “dehumanizing” words when covering immigration.

The terms “alien,” “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant” should be avoided, according to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA).

The preferred terms are “undocumented immigrant,” “undocumented worker” or “economic refugee,” which the organizations consider more accurate and less offensive.

Some, however, question the motives of the groups.

“These groups are acting political, not journalistic,” said Tim Graham of the Media Research Center (MRC).

“This is not about inaccuracy, it’s about identity politics. When words like ‘dehumanizing’ come up, it’s all about sensitivity, not credibility. They are taking personal and ideological offense, not enlightening journalists.”

The 2,300-member NAHJ is particularly vexed by the one-word descriptor “illegal,” saying, “Shortening the term in this way stereotypes undocumented people who are in the United States as having committed a crime. Under U.S. immigration law, being an undocumented immigrant is not a crime, it is a civil violation.”

The group also denounced the “use of degrading terms ‘alien’ and ‘illegal alien’ to describe undocumented immigrants because it casts them as adverse, strange beings — inhuman outsiders who come to the U.S. with questionable motivations.”

Mr. Graham, however, called for a reality check.

“It’s not like news organizations are using the term ‘Frito Bandito,’” he said. “And what about the definition of ‘illegal’? This population doesn’t choose to enter the country by legal channels, or stand in line like immigrants who played by the rules. That sounds illegal to me.”

The organizations remain concerned. The 4,000-member NABJ says the disputed terms are subject to misinterpretation.

“The words we use frame a debate, and we need to make sure those words are not loaded with baggage,” said Bryan Moore, president of NABJ.

Illegal-heavy coverage “can heighten xenophobia, skew public debate on immigration issues and put the lives and well-being of all non-U.S. citizens (undocumented and documented) in this country at risk by suggesting they are criminals,” according to the 2,000-member AAJA, which also said, “Millions of Asian Americans are directly or indirectly affected.”

Still, this is old territory for the groups, which issued a joint statement with the Native American Journalists Association in 1994 against the use of the term “illegal aliens” by the press, unless quotations were used.

In the meantime, Spanish-language print and broadcast media in the U.S. have helped organize recent large-scale demonstrations against tougher immigration policies in Los Angeles, according to the California-based Pacific News Service (PNS).

Last week, the PNS said, “California’s Spanish media outlets played a pivotal role” in the rallies.


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