But Doug and others who’ve been yearning for this day shouldn’t get overexcited. AP says we still have an “illegal immigration” problem.
It’s a matter of style.
Most news organizations in this country follow The Associated Press Stylebook quite religiously. Except for a few local exceptions here and there, so did every paper I ever worked at.
And AP style just changed. Those who follow the guide are no longer to call anyone an “illegal immigrant,” or refer to people as “illegals.”
Romenesko quotes from the statement today from AP explaining the change:
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…
The discussions on this topic have been wide-ranging and include many people from many walks of life. (Earlier, they led us to reject descriptions such as “undocumented,” despite ardent support from some quarters, because it is not precise. A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence.)…
… 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….
Here’s the way the entry in the Stylebook reads now:
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.
There’s a certain logic to this, but I think the AP is going about a step too far. I can see not describing humans as “illegals.” It’s lazy, and unless a person has been declared an outlaw in the full meaning of the term (is that even possible in today’s legal system), the person himself is not illegal.
But by doing away with “illegal immigrant,” AP is eliminating a perfectly clear and accurate way of describing one aspect of a person. I doubt the service would balk at “recent immigrant,” or any other accurate modifier used with the word “immigrant.” “Illegal immigrant” is a quick, accurate way to describe a characteristic of an individual that is important to the story (else it wouldn’t be mentioned at all). I see no reason to inconvenience thousands of writers and millions of readers by forcing them into less direct ways of communicating the same concept.