The momentum of immigration reform this year, the broad agreement to start discussing immigrants as—you know—people, and years-long campaigns to push the public to “Drop the I-Word” had a huge victory yesterday, when the Associated Press announced that they no longer recommend that journalists use the term “illegal immigrant” when referring to those here without papers.
As Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll wrote on the AP blog, “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 or immigrating to a country illegally.”
Why the long-awaited change? The blog continues:
The discussions on this topic have been wide-ranging and include many people from many walks of life…
Those discussions continued even after AP affirmed “illegal immigrant” as the best use, for two reasons.
A number of people felt that “illegal immigrant” was the best choice at the time. They also believed the always-evolving English language might soon yield a different choice and we should stay in the conversation.
Also, we had in other areas been ridding the Stylebook of labels. 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.
And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to “illegal immigrant” again.
We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance.
So we have.
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.
It looks like evolution will also soon be coming to the New York Times, where a blog from public editor Margaret Sullivan yesterday noted that the Times “for the past couple of months, has also been considering changes to its stylebook entry on this term and will probably announce them to staffmembers this week.” The changes are expected to “provide more nuance and options” for what term to use.
Sullivan herself commented on the sea change that has occurred recently on immigration and her own response to changes in public attitudes, writing:
Language evolves and it’s time for these changes. Early in my tenure as public editor, I considered this question and came down in favor of the continued use of “illegal immigrant,” because it was a clear and easily understandable term. My position on this has changed over the past several months. So many people find it offensive to refer to a person with an adjective like “illegal” that I now favor the use of “undocumented” or “unauthorized” as alternatives.
Around the blogosphere, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. “This. Is. Huge,” Latino Rebels wrote. “It must be the year of the Latino: AP announces it’s dropping the ‘I’ Word,” read the headline at Latina Lista.
“It’s great to see the Associated Press stand up for responsible journalistic standards. The style guide is the last word on journalistic practice so it’s particularly important for the AP to set this standard,” said Rinku Sen, executive director of the Applied Research and publisher of Colorlines.com—which launched the Drop the I-Word campaign more than three years ago. “This should put the debate to rest.”
Jose Antonio Vargas, who has been an outspoken advocate for ending the use of the i-word, tweeted:
— Jose Antonio Vargas (@joseiswriting) April 2, 2013
And as Digby at Hullaballoo wrote, “Just as there are no ‘illegitimate’ people, there are no ‘illegal’ ones. Every person is legitimately and legally human.”