“It’s ‘illegal immigrant’ no more” says The Associated Press, which banished the phrase from its usage guide on Tuesday — the latest stylistic edict for journalists who have juggled such terms as “undocumented worker” or “illegal alien,” its politically incorrect variant.
“The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term ‘illegal immigrant’ or the use of ‘illegal’ to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that ‘illegal’ should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally,” said Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the wire service.
The baroque rationale for the decision goes on for many paragraphs before offering the actual Stylebook entry for earnest journalists:
“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.”
Ms. Carroll said that even this latest guideline applies only “for now” and could change in the future, as “evolution” happens.
“Is this the best way to describe someone in a country without permission? We believe that it is for now. We also believe more evolution is likely down the road. Will the new guidance make it harder for writers? Perhaps just a bit at first. But while labels may be more facile, they are not accurate,” she said.
Reactions among journalists were immediate, with multiple quips appearing on Twitter under a waggish #NewAPStyle hashtag.
“Pathetic,” declared Twitchy.com, while New York Post editorial page editor John Podhoretz observed, “Maybe they should call them schmillegal schmimigrants.” Sonny Bunch, managing editor of the Washington Free Beacon, imagined the ruling’s logic being applied elsewhere: “‘Stalker’ is now to be ‘person who really just wants to be loved, and that’s okay’.”
There are political roots influencing the AP’s decision, among them the words of Jose Antonio Vargas, an illegal immigrant and former Washington Post reporter, who appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February to complain about the phrase.
“When you inaccurately call me illegal, you not only dehumanize me, you’re offending them,” Mr. Vargas told the lawmakers. “No human being is illegal.”
At an earlier meeting of the Online News Association, Mr. Vargas said he would push news organizations to change their style rules. “Right now, my two main targets, and I say that politely, are going to be The New York Times and The Associated Press.”