AP Bans ‘Illegal Immigrant’: The Tricky Language of Immigration Reform

New Associated Press Stylebook guidance marks the latest chapter in a long battle over the "I-word."

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A t-shirt worn at a demonstration by immigrant students for an end to deportations and for relief for those in deportation proceedings, June 15, 2012, in Los Angeles, Calif.

There’s a snappy saying used to promote cultural sensitivity toward Asian-Americans and their heritage: rugs are Oriental, people are Asian. The corollary in today’s national conversation about immigration reform might go something like this: “Actions are illegal, people are undocumented.” That is, unless you’re a reporter for the Associated Press, for whom the terms illegal immigrant and undocumented immigrant are now both verboten.

(COVER STORY: Not Legal, and Not Leaving)

On Tuesday, when the news service announced that its thousands of reporters would no longer be using those terms, it was a victory for activists who have argued that no person should be described as “illegal.” But the lack of suggested alternatives highlights a potential headache for journalists, politicians and others who regularly talk and write about people who are in the United States without proper documentation: which words do they use now?

The Associated Press says their update is more about avoiding labels as a general practice than showing sensitivity to the immigrant community (though the editors did have meetings with such advocates in recent months). “We try to be fair to people’s feelings,” standards editor Tom Kent tells TIME, “but we’re not responding to one political current or another.” He says the change to the AP Stylebook, an established guide to proper usage and grammar, is no different than changes that have nixed other reductive terms, like wheelchair-bound or schizophrenic. “We’re trying to put the emphasis not on describing people but on describing actions or situations that they are in,” Kent says. (TIME discourages the use of the term “illegal immigrant” by our writers.)

(PHOTOS: America’s Undocumented Immigrants)

The easy fix, one pushed by many immigration reform activists, is to use “undocumented immigrants.” But AP Stylebook editors, being highly concerned about the precision and accuracy of their language, rejected that adjective too. That term — the one preferred by anti-I-word campaigners like Jose Antonio Vargas, who wrote TIME’s June 2012 cover story on immigration reform — is still too imprecise, Kent says: after all, an “undocumented” immigrant could have all sorts of documents, like a driver’s license or a birth certificate from their home country.

In a recent hearing about immigration on Capitol Hill, Democratic Rep. John Conyers expressed the preference that no one present use the term “illegal immigrants” and instead called such people “out of status.” Yet Kent finds that phrasing even less clear. “Everybody has some status,” he says. “I mean, I’m seated at the moment. I don’t think most readers would grasp what we meant by that.”

(VIEWPOINT: The Problem with the Word ‘Illegal’) 

When telling individual stories, writers and politicians can get more specific about the immigrant in question, eschewing the word illegal by explaining more precisely what the subject’s circumstances are. When referring to a broader group, the language gets more cumbersome. Kent’s most elaborate suggestion was “foreigners in the United States in violation of the law.” And tortured language will only fan the flames of critics who view such avoidances as liberal hand-wringing. “They’re illegals. They’re illegals. They’re illegals. They’re illegals. They’re here illegally,” Glenn Beck said on his radio show in response to Conyers’ “out of status” remarks.

For its part, the AP Stylebook has for years required reporters to avoid the terms “illegals” or “aliens” because those words are viewed as derogatory. And there are certain words that have cropped up in recent political discussions that pretty much everyone can agree not to use — just ask Alaska Rep. Don Young. Even with the AP changing its ways, and more news organizations considering similar reforms, ridding society at large of a convenient shorthand is not going to be easy. But Kent says ease is not the driving factor when it comes to the AP Stylebook. The new ban “fits in with our own ethic on labeling,” he says. “We want to some degree reflect the evolution of society.”

Wednesday Words is a weekly column that delves into the way we wag our tongues and wield our pens.

MORE: Why Undocumented Workers Are Good for Business

202 comments
ThomasO'Connor
ThomasO'Connor

Don't come here illegally - its pretty straightforward - I understand for some it wasn't their choice, but ignorance of a crime does not absolve one of the consequences of breaking it. We have allowances in our immigration laws for refugee's. We have allowances for the number of people who can immigrate yearly from all different parts of the world (and there are reasons those numbers exist) - We have programs for visa's for workers and students= sponsorship programs etc. - Washington ashamedly see's these numbers as potential voters, so finding loopholes or granting amnesty - gets them more votes for whoever's party... we honestly don't care anymore because they all seem corrupt these days... --- sickening)  
     
       If you walk into a bank vault and security fails to stop you before you make it into the door - does this mean you now get some of the money in there? - or lets say your parent, while visiting a neighbor decides "Oh! this is much nicer than my home!". now you  "magically" you get to live there? Now they have to consider you part of their family. feed you, pay your medical bills etc?  Even if the homeowner has an extra room and is gracious enough and can take one person at a time and help them until they can move on and make it on their own. Just because you can fit 6 people in that room or they sneak in when the homeowner is looking - doesn't mean the other 5 get to stay - we said one. (hopefully the simile isn't too hard for most to catch the meaning of here)

    We don't hate immigrants. Most of us are, or are the children or grandchildren of immigrants. There was and often still is a proud history of what it took for us or for them to get here and make a new home for themselves here. To be and become an American and to learn the language. We didn't require you forget your previous one - but neither did we change our existing signage or documentation to accommodate. We offered help initially, but eventually the onus was on them to become fluent.  and obey the laws of their new country. (Not just those convenient for you / them) It was an honor - they were proud to exclaim they are Americans and mean it, not just when they take they oath of citizenship.- Honor your new home and make it stronger.
      Ask many immigrant families - from the 1850-1950 era or so. And ask them what their views on  Public Assistance are? - beyond making sure they hopefully had enough to fee their children many would not take a dime. They felt too much pride, because they were brought up to take care of and provide for themselves and their families. 
   
       Additionally, - If within a certain amount of time, an immigrant speaks with disrespect, insults or attacks this nation or at any time breaks 'severe laws' of this, their new home / country - Then they should be encouraged most emphatically (or if need be forcibly...) to return from whence they came.  

uhlthomas27
uhlthomas27

there are a whole lot of illegals from russia, ukraine, asia.... yet everyone dwells on mexicans... ironic enough mexicans as immigrants have been declining in number and actualy more are leaving than coming


the new wave of illegals is coming from asia and russia

CaliforniaEagle
CaliforniaEagle

Justice, you aren't presenting an accurate picture. Illegal entry is not a felony, it's a misdemeanor (8USC1325). Overstaying a visa or working without permission is not a criminal offense, it's a civil offense (violation of status). Re-entry after deportation (8USC1326) is a felony, as are some other sections of law such as visa fraud, false statements, false claim to U.S. citizenship, passport fraud, etc. It's a far stretch and NOT accurate to say that all illegal aliens are felons. Some do use phony documents and end up using the Social Security number of another (because the counterfeiter picked it out of the air) and it was issued to someone else, and yes, this causes problems. However, the number of illegal aliens who actually assume the identity of an American citizen is quite low. When those crimes are discovered, it's up to the office of the U.S. Attorney whether or not to prosecute. Generally speaking, unless there are aggravating circumstances, prosecution will be declined because there are other more egregious cases to prosecute. 

JUSTICEFORALL
JUSTICEFORALL

ANYONE WHO HAS STUDIES IMMIGRATION LAW KNOWS THE CORRECT TERM FOR PEOPLE WHO COME LEGALLY IS AN "IMMIGRANT" (USC TITLE 8, CHAPT. 12, SUBCH. 1 SECTION 1101 & SUBCH. II SECTION 1325);  SOMEONE WHO COMES IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW IS CALLED AN "ILLEGAL ALIEN". IT'S VERY SIMPLE. MEXICO HAS AN AGENDA TO TAKE OVER FIRST THE SW OF THIS NATION (they only owned for 24 yrs.!) AND THEN THE ENTIRE NATION IF THEY CAN DO IT. THEIR MOVEMENT IS CALLED "AZTLAN" AND THEIR RADICALS SPEND HOURS THINKING UP WAYS TO "MANIPULATE AMERICANS' WORDS TO MANIPULATE OUR MINDS". The word "immigrant" is a respected word so they yelp every time someone uses the correct term "illegal alien" and say he's not from outer space or some such ludicrous remark so people use the respected word which is the wrong one. Not one illegal alien has any respect for law; nor do they care if Americans' lose their jobs as long as they can steal what we have: our jobs, our benefits, our social services, etc.

BajaRat
BajaRat

AP is right in not calling the invaders "illegal immigrants." They are actually "ILLEGAL ALIENS." goo.gl/4vthV
They are also criminals and parasites in need of immediate deportation.

UleNotknow
UleNotknow

" ...rugs are Oriental, people are Asian." Really. "Oriental" is a race. "Asia" is a continent of some 50 countries. Its residents are Asian, but, depending on their "race", they may or may not be Oriental.

BrakeFastClub
BrakeFastClub

This entire country is illegal and filled with criminals.  Don't try and be high and mighty.  It blows my mind that you blame this country's problem on a small group of people meanwhile not one person that caused the GFC is in prison.  You people are so full of lies and nonsense that it makes me physically ill.

fibonacci
fibonacci

Sorry, but if you come here illegally you are an illegal.  My father came here in 1973 LEGALLY and LEARNED ENGLISH by watching Clint Eastwood movies and from talking to GIs stationed during Vietnam.  If my dad can come here LEGALLY, LEARN ENGLISH, AND ASSIMILATE, then so can everyone else.  It's funny how people won't tolerate someone cutting in line in front of them at all, but these morons try to shove illegals down our throat when they're doing the same exact thing--cutting in line in front of everyone else trying to come here legally.  Why should they get free health care  that allows them to have kids here that will end up getting free education when tax payers are stuck with the bill?  Why is it millions of our legal citizens don't even have proper access to health care or get burdened with huge bills when health care is needed, yet illegal immigrants are allowed to simply walk in and clog up our ERs all for free?



ICLABGOD
ICLABGOD

How about we called the Undocumented Criminals.

harper626
harper626

We can no longer refer to criminals as "criminals".    It places a stigma on the person.   From now on they are to be referred to as the "legally challenged".    Let's be politically correct folks.

CaliforniaEagle
CaliforniaEagle

AmieMarie7, I recommend "alien in the U.S. illegally." Alien is a better word to use than immigrant since it is defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 USC 1101: (3)The term “alien” means any person not a citizen or national of the United States. An immigrant is an alien who intends to reside indefinitely, but an alien illegally in the U.S. could be a non-immigrant (alien who intends to reside temporarily). Aren't words fun?!

CharlesScamardo
CharlesScamardo

AP just doing what liberals do....Political Correctness. Never cease with these people or their whack job ideology.

DonKeyhotay
DonKeyhotay

  Cue the White Trash Racist whiners ...

HarveyWallbanger
HarveyWallbanger

Hey everyone. This is the AP, not black letter law. They do not have authority so ,,,, I don't care.

HarveyWallbanger
HarveyWallbanger

It's no fun, being an illegal alien! no no no no no no no it's no fun being an illegal alien!

MikeO'Lary
MikeO'Lary

"Criminal" - there. Problem solved. And it is an accurate description also.

CaliforniaEagle
CaliforniaEagle

@JUSTICEFORALL Sorry, Justice, but your definition is off a bit. The Immigration & Nationality Act, Title 8, defines immigrant at 8USC1101(a) (15): "The term "immigrant" means every alien except an alien who is within one of the following classes of nonimmigrant aliens," and then proceed to list all the non-immigrant classes (students, visitors, temporary workers, diplomats, etc). An alien can be an immigrant or non-immigrant. An immigrant can be illegal or legal. An illegal immigrant can be charged in Immigration Court with being an immigrant not in possession of valid immigrant visa (i.e., "green card"). Aztlan might exist as a movement but I don't think their movement has anything to do with the migration of Mexican aliens to the U.S. It's also important to remember that 40 per cent of illegal aliens entered lawfully at ports of entry (airports, land borders, etc) and although Mexican comprise the largest number of illegal entrants, there are illegal aliens from every other country here. 

fibonacci
fibonacci

By the way, it still doesn't change the fact that illegals are cutting in front of the line in front of everyone else trying to get here legally and people who are paying all of the fees for proper documentation.  Why is it my boss that came from Germany with a PhD in Germany had to wait over 5 years to get a green card?  Meanwhile we let in illegals that butt in front of everyone else, pay no fees, and that are now on the fast track to becoming a citizen?  Sorry, you cut in line, you should be thrown out.  

aztecian
aztecian

@fibonacci the problem is...you single out one group and demonize them.  undocumented immigrants do the work that you and your father don't want to do or can't do.  

by the way english is not the official language, so people have the right to maintain their native language and culture.

drudown
drudown

@CaliforniaEagle 

In the interests of intellectual honesty, surely you cannot credibly contend that the vast majority- if not over 90% of all "illegal aliens" do not intend on residing in the US jurisdiction indefinitely? It may seem "fun" for you and the pro-immigration "reform" lobby to parse words, but maybe you could start elsewhere. Say, given the Sequester cuts tends to demonstrate our fiscal shortfall, how, pray tell, do YOU propose the PEOPLE pay for this "social safety net" called "path to citizenship" that is more properly termed "amnesty" because that is what it is.,

fixerguy909
fixerguy909

@DonKeyhotay and cue the criminals who have bid defiance to our law for DECADES sniveling that they are somehow "entitled" to the protections of that law.

aztecian
aztecian

@DonKeyhotay the entire board is full of them.  we need to stand up to this white washing.

drudown
drudown

@DonKeyhotay 

How do you propose the People pay for the 20,000,000 new entitlement claims? I am an ardent supporter of President Obama. So, let's leave the race card in the drawer and talk fiscal policy.

Who pays for it and how can you realistically assume the GOP Congress isn't going to DIVERT funds earmarked for current US citizens if the GOP refuses to "raise taxes, ever"? Do tell.

JUSTICEFORALL
JUSTICEFORALL

@CaliforniaEagle @JUSTICEFORALL Sorry, CA Tweety-bird, but my definition is correct.  USC Title 8 (as I referred to above) says: "Illegal Alien"- "Someone who comes in violation of the law." it is very simple and easy to understand at least for those of us who can read. An "alien" just means someone from another country who is not a U.S. citizen.  Real "immigrants" (as in those who come legally) are "legal aliens" and you will never hear one grousing about the term as it is not (nor has it ever been) derogatory. And it, of course, has nothing to do with outer space as the illegals' supporters would have you think. In every language, there are words that have more than one meaning. The Movement of "Aztlan" has everything to do with illegals from Mexico as once they think they have enough here and arm themselves, if they don't take the land over by the vote, they will try by violence. We all know that there are people from all over the world who sneak in as illegals; however, 80% of the illegals are from Mexico. Also, 34% of all felons in our prisons nationwide are illegal aliens. Yes, we know 40% of illegals overstay their visa but the majority (the job thieves) sneak in over the border allowing terrorists, foreign criminals and people with deadly diseases to sneak over with them!

Caro09
Caro09

@CaliforniaEagle @JUSTICEFORALL 

Thank you. Many believe that it is only Mexico and South American that undocumented immigrants come from. But there are many other undocumented immigrants who come all over Europe, Asia, etc. People need to get educated. But again this is the internet 

drudown
drudown

@aztecian @fibonacci 

Listen to you. "Demonize" them? How about you be intellectually honest for a change regarding the nature of their intentions. ANY illegal immigrant (from Kenya or Honduras or Mexico) wants to DOMICILE indefinitely and very much circumvent the Immigrations laws and, in doing so, cut in front of the line.

KrisRosvold
KrisRosvold

@aztecian@fibonacci


Read more: http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/04/03/ap-bans-illegal-immigrant-the-tricky-language-of-immigration-reform/#ixzz2PaxjUdHn

BULL!  BuSh! That is a corporate LIE straight from from ALEC.  I was THERE (as a teen CITIZEN) in the 1970s.  We picked, threw hay bales, mucked out stalls, cut lawns, cut and split wood, and did whatever else we could to earn a dollar after school. We were Teenagers and this was how we earned our date money.  These folks (the illegal immigrants) ARE taking jobs that are hot and hard and sweaty BUT they are TAKING JOBS from out teens and those trying to come back from major hardships.  Walk into ANY fast food restaurant: ILLEGALS everywhere. Few teen CITIZENS...In 1970-1982 the vast majority of these jobs were filled with TEEN Citizens....These jobs were also a place from which to re-start if you had been in jail...that's now gone too.  The grand lie on this issue is that the media is (most carefully) NOT talking about this change...WHY? Who Benefits?  Follow the MONEY!  The ONLY folks who benefit from the situation we have now are the corporations.  By having a large supply (+11 MILLION) of ILLEGAL laborers they can keep the wages (and benefits) artificially low, thus increasing profit.  As a DIRECT result of this ILLEGAL workforce the spending power of the minimum wage (and therefore it's usable value)  has DROPPED by well over 50% since 1960. 

fibonacci
fibonacci

@aztecian @fibonacci 


How presumptuous it is on your part to claim that illegals do "work my father would never want to do".  My dad came to this country with $40 in his pocket, worked as a bus boy while riding his bike in the snow and rain because he didn't have a car.  Eventually he went to college and got his degree AND he learned English AND assimilated .  It's best not to jump to conclusions and make yourself look like an idiot.  Why does English as our language "have to be made official"?  We've only spoken it as our primary language ever since this country was founded.  If I move to Mexico, you can be assured I'd learn Spanish and wouldn't demand the population in Mexcio learn English.  If I move to Italy, I will learn Italian, or if I move to Brazil, I'll learn Portuguese.  Illegals that come to this country have no right to free health care, free education, and then demand that we speak to them in their own tongue.  We might as well dissolve our borders.  

KrisRosvold
KrisRosvold

@aztecian @ICLABGOD They ARE criminals...Every bit as much as the driver who does 70 mph in a 55mph zone..The difference?  Try arguing to the cop who pulled you over that "There are too many of us, you can't arrest me!" This IS NOT about color. I don't care if they came from europe, Canada, or anywhere else. What I care about is that they FOLLOW THE SAME RULES THAT I HAVE TO, and that my Grandfather had to when HE immigrated (LEGALLY).  He 1) Had to LEARN ENGLISH spoken and written. 2) had to post a 5 year $5000 CASH BOND (in 1936 that was a HOUSE!) to "Insure that he did not become a burden upon society". 3) had to WAIT HIS TURN!

ICLABGOD
ICLABGOD

@aztecian @ICLABGOd

I am not a bigot. They are violating U.S. soviernty hence criminals and since we don't know who they are so undocumented. So they are Undocumentied Criminals.

CaliforniaEagle
CaliforniaEagle

@drudown @CaliforniaEagle You're absolutely right, most aliens illegally in the U.S. intend to reside indefinitely; I did not say differently. Where do you pick up any hint that I was pro "reform?" I don't support amnesty in any form; it was tried once before (1986) when some 3,000,000 aliens got amnesty and Congress said it was going to be a one-time event!

I also use the word "reform" in quotes because "reform" is in the eye of the beholder. If we call changes in the immigration law "reform," then all the changes in laws that Congress makes should be called "reforms" too. 

drudown
drudown

@aztecian @DonKeyhotay 

Like it or not, the Republic that you seem so eager to cede control to (your words) La Raza was actually founded by White men- some of my ancestors (John Hancock). So spare me the victim card and purporting to demand voting rights that are illusory. 

"So hot? my poor little sir." - Emerson

aztecian
aztecian

@drudown @DonKeyhotay you sound like a rethug!  it will be covered by raising taxes...eventually the gee-O-pee will be gone.  it will take time and hard work, but their years are number.  the majority of voters are tired of the obstructionism...people are demanding change.

CaliforniaEagle
CaliforniaEagle

@JUSTICEFORALL @CaliforniaEagle I challenge you to post the quoted section of Title 8 to which you refer. I know that law very well. There's no need to get nasty when you differ with someone. You obviously know that the term "alien" is defined, but I've never seen the term "illegal alien" defined in the law. 

BajaRat
BajaRat

@aztecian No wonder more and more US citizens want the Mexican border land mined.

fixerguy909
fixerguy909

@aztecian @KrisRosvold @ICLABGOD They came here lived here worked here illegally. THEY INTENTIONALLY bid defiance to our laws over decades and now after being called out on their criminality "demand" protection from the very system of Law which they bid defiance to for decades!?!?!?!!! Pack it!

KrisRosvold
KrisRosvold

@aztecian @KrisRosvold @ICLABGOD And so you are admitting that they ARE  in fact and in law criminal but claiming that there are too many and so we are stuck with thier criminality?...Hint if someone were to build a home on my land using my utilities after I had told them that they were trespassing ...what do you suspect would happen next? (hint: I'm a Navy Veteran and armed)

aztecian
aztecian

@KrisRosvold @aztecian @ICLABGOD and this isn't 1936!  wake up to the new world, the new change and the new way of thinking.  quit thinking it's all about you and how your grandfather got here.  there is a new wave of immigrants and nothing can stop it, not a wall, not ink and paper and not your bs rhetoric!

drudown
drudown

@CaliforniaEagle

Do you agree that the 20,000,000+ "illegal aliens" should NOT receive the same Privileges and Immunities as US citizens by merely crossing the border illegally? Yes or No.

drudown
drudown

@aztecian @drudown @DonKeyhotay 

Sure, aztecian, as much as I SUPPORT raising taxes to help subsidize the services required to avoid our societal decay, you erroneously assume FACTS NOT IN EVIDENCE, i.e., that the GOP will raise a SINGLE dollar of revenue.