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Posted by on Apr 2, 2013 in Media, Politics | 5 comments

The AP drops ‘illegal immigrant’

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This is an issue that has troubled and raged in newsrooms for many years — and now the AP has taken a (partial) stand on it. For years many Americans (and certainly partisans who are against immigration reform) have used the phrase “illegal immigrants” or, earlier, “illegal aliens.” Each word is hotly debated so the AP has taken some action:

The Associated Press on Tuesday announced it will no longer use the term “illegal immigrant” or “illegal” to describe a person — but did not say which term, if any, should take its place.

The AP Stylebook has been updated to state that it no longer sanctions the use of “illegal” or “illegal immigrant” for a person, senior vice president and executive editor Kathleen Carroll wrote in a blog post. The Stylebook now directs that “illegal” should only be used to describe an action, “such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally,” Carroll noted.

The AP aims to label “behavior” instead of “people,” Carroll wrote, pointing out that “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.” The AP, she said, is working on “ridding the Stylebook of labels.”

“And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to ‘illegal immigrant’ again,” she said. “We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance. So we have.”

Carroll added that the AP will continue to examine the best way to describe “someone in a country without permission.” The AP has decided that using “illegal” only to refer to an action, not a person, is the best way to go “for now.”

“We also believe more evolution is likely down the road,” she added.

So the AP will work on exactly what phrase to use.

This has been an issue for man years on newspapers. In 1980 I was a staff reporter on The Wichita Eagle (which later became The Wichita-Eagle Bacon after Knight Ridder killed the evening newspaper and merged it into the morning paper). I was doing a special series on Wichita’s Hispanic population. The phrases “illegal alien” always grated on me and I preferred to use the phrase “undocumented worker” in my stories. There was debate at the highest levels and my phrase was replaced. It was sincere, genuine debate over what was the most perceived honest phrase that could be used.

I suspect the AP will come to some solution, then be blasted by one side. As you read this it’ll probably be blasted by some weblogs and some talkers for saying it doesn’t want to use the word “illegal” anymore.