The New York Times has “come up with more detailed and nuanced stylebook guidelines” on the use of the term “illegal immigrant,” Associate Managing Editor for Standards Philip Corbett tells Poynter in an emailed statement. Some people, the guidelines read, view the term “as loaded or offensive.”
Without taking sides or resorting to euphemism, consider alternatives when appropriate to explain the specific circumstances of the person in question, or to focus on actions: who crossed the border illegally; who overstayed a visa; who is not authorized to work in this country.
Here’s the new entry:
illegal immigrant may be used to describe someone who enters, lives in or works in the United States without proper legal authorization. But be aware that in the debate over immigration, some people view it as loaded or offensive. Without taking sides or resorting to euphemism, consider alternatives when appropriate to explain the specific circumstances of the person in question, or to focus on actions: who crossed the border illegally; who overstayed a visa; who is not authorized to work in this country.
Unauthorized is also an acceptable description, though it has a bureaucratic tone. Undocumented is the term preferred by many immigrants and their advocates, but it has a flavor of euphemism and should be used with caution outside quotations. Illegal immigration, because it describes the issue rather than an individual, is less likely than illegal immigrant to be seen as troubling.
Take particular care in describing people whose immigration status is complex or subject to change – for example, young people brought to this country as children, many of whom are eligible for temporary reprieves from deportation under federal policies adopted in 2012.
Do not use illegal as a noun, and avoid the sinister-sounding alien.
“We’re well aware of the debate over these terms, and we understand the sensitivity of this issue for many people,” Corbett’s statement says. “We have had many discussions in recent months among reporters, editors and outside parties, and have come up with more detailed and nuanced stylebook guidelines on the use of ‘illegal immigrant’ and other terms. The goal is to give our reporters and editors a range of options in describing this complex topic.”
The Associated Press changed its style on the term at the beginning of the month. Define American founder Jose Antonio Vargas, a former reporter for The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, told Poynter at the time he was very interested in seeing if the Times would follow suit.
Tuesday, some people demonstrated outside the paper’s office, advocating it drop the term.
Covering a protest for the NYT about the NYT’s use of the word illegal immigrant. twitter.com/chaughney/stat…
— Christine Haughney (@chaughney) April 23, 2013
Vargas was among them, Christine Haughney reports. He told her “he had mixed emotions about The New York Times’s updated policy.”
“The New York Times can’t have it both ways,” he said.
Previously: AP changes style on ‘illegal immigrant’ | AP memo clarifies how to use the phrase ‘illegal immigrant’ | The New York Times explains why it still uses ‘illegal immigrant’ | Jose Antonio Vargas ‘disappointed’ NYT not budging on ‘illegal immigrant’