San Francisco Chronicle changes style on ‘illegal immigrant’

The San Francisco Chronicle changed its style on “illegal immigrant” Monday. It’s the latest of several publications to reconsider the term.

The newspaper’s new style will “essentially match” the Associated Press’ style on the term, David Steinberg, copy desk chief at the Chronicle, said in an email to Poynter.

Chronicle journalists are now advised not to refer to a person as “illegal” or as an “alien;” instead, “illegal” should only be used in describing the means by which they entered the country, and only with proper attribution.

The Associated Press changed its style on the term in April, followed by the Los Angeles Times in May. The New York Times urged its writers to “consider alternatives when appropriate.” The San Antonio Express-News stopped using the term five years ago.

Below, the Chronicle’s new stylebook entry.

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 immigrant. This prohibition also applies to headlines.

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.

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