AP changes style on ‘illegal immigrant’

Associated Press

The Associated Press is changing its Stylebook entry on the term “illegal immigrant,” the news cooperative announced Tuesday. The new entry reads in part:

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.

In a statement, AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll says the change came, in part, because of ongoing work at AP dedicated to “ridding the Stylebook of labels.”

Immigration is just one area where AP is doing such work, Carroll says in the statement. Now it recommends “Saying someone was ‘diagnosed with schizophrenia’ instead of schizophrenic, for example.”

Reached by phone, Carroll elaborated on the AP’s struggle against labels: “It’s kind of a lazy device that those of use who type for a living can become overly reliant on as a shortcut,” she said. “It ends up pigeonholing people or creating long descriptive titles where you use some main event in someone’s life to become the modifier before their name.”

Carroll said she expected people to comb AP’s work and Stylebook for other examples, engagement she said she welcomed.

AP’s earlier decision to stick with “illegal immigrant” was “the best we thought at the time,” Carroll said, “of a bunch of choices that were relatively unsatisfying.” Pushback from advocates didn’t influence AP’s thinking, she said. (Jose Antonio Vargas, a former Washington Post and Huffington Post reporter who founded the advocacy organization Define American, has urged both AP and The New York Times to find a less loaded descriptor.)

Reached by phone, Vargas said, “This was inevitable. This is not about being politically correct.”

“What I hope is this is just the beginning of a conversation for newsrooms across America,” Vargas said. He added that he was particularly interested in speaking with New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, who wrote the term is “clear and accurate.” Vargas said he’s looking forward to hearing what news organizations like the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post will do.

“I have heard from at least 20 undocumented journalists, many of them still in journalism school,” Vargas said. “I’m not the only one.”

Via email, New York Times Associate Managing Editor for Standards Phil Corbett says “We’ve been discussing some possible revisions in our guidance on these terms for a couple of months. Coincidentally, we had been expecting to send a memo to the staff soon, possibly this week.”

Sullivan tweeted something similar:

“We have a long record of being able to look at this calmly and say what does the language precisely say here and does it say that to anyone in any country who speaks English, whatever their origins,” Carroll said.

“We’re not saying this is the usage that will live forever, either,” she said. “We’re actually hoping the language and the usage evolves to create a solution that is even more precise and accurate.”

AP Deputy Managing Editor Tom Kent said in an October 2012 memo to staffers that the term “illegal immigrant” was the appropriate term to describe those who live in the U.S. without proper documentation or legal status:

“Terms like “undocumented” and “unauthorized” can make a person’s illegal presence in the country appear to be a matter of minor paperwork. Many illegal immigrants aren’t “undocumented” at all; they may have a birth certificate and passport from their home country, plus a U.S. driver’s license, Social Security card or school ID. What they lack is the fundamental right to be in the United States.”

AP had said the term was accurate for some, but not all, immigrants without proper legal status or documentation. For example, Kent said the term was not accurate for a child who was brought to the U.S. by his or her parents; the child would not be an “illegal immigrant” by choice.

In the October memo, Kent did not say when to use the term “illegal immigrant,” but instead advised staffers as to the best practices relevant to the term.

Prior to Tuesday’s change, the AP Stylebook advised journalists to use the term “to describe someone who has entered a country illegally or who resides in a country in violation of civil or criminal law.” It said only to use the phrase if knowledge of a person’s immigration status came from “reliable information.”

Here’s the whole 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 alienan illegalillegals 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.

Previously: 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’

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  • http://www.facebook.com/seriousscholar Rocky Citro

    That seems like a good term to avoid the charged term “illegal” and be more specific than “undocumented.” You should email it to AP…maybe they’ll work it into the next edition. :) In general I like the specificity of the new stylebook entry.

  • hung duy


    bóng bàn, dụng cụ bóng bàn, vợt bóng bàn, cốt vợt
    bóng bàn, mặt vợt bóng bàn, cửa hàng bóng bàn, bogns bàn duy hưng

  • Can’t Believe It

    It’s kind of ironic since Texas is barely part of the U.S. now and definitely won’t be after reconquista. Those editors are going to be really sorry they were such racists.

  • Guest

    They should call them what they really are: Courageous.

  • http://twitter.com/LTPR LT Public Relations


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=784488133 George Gordon

    Re: the term not being accurate for a child because he’s not an “illegal immigrant” by
    choice, many people aren’t unemployed by choice, either, so should we no longer call them unemployed? Fantastic logic — not.

  • roadgeek

    “It’s a beautiful thing, the Destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word, which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take ‘good,’ for instance. If you have a word like ‘good,’ what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well – better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of ‘good,’ what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like ‘excellent’ and ‘splendid’ and all the rest of them? ‘Plusgood’ covers the meaning or ‘doubleplusgood’ if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already, but in the final version of Newspeak there’ll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words – in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston? It was B.B.’s idea originally, of course,” he added as an afterthought.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Burleson/1360835127 David Burleson

    AP censoring honest replies, as usual.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cathy.mcmanus3 Cathy McManus

    authorized immigrants those with green cards and the dreamers, unauthorized immigrants those with little documentation and no green card. I like it Pete.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000916623996 PW Covington

    I have brought this issue up numerous times with The Victoria Advocate (the only daily newspaper serving a huge {7 county} area of South Central Texas)….Time and time again, Editorial staff has chosen to use the term “illegal immigrant” or to simply assume that those appearing to be Hispanic were “illegal”, even when no verification was possible…. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=538021769571706&set=a.100237290016825.181.100000916623996&type=1&theater

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Burleson/1360835127 David Burleson

    Either deport or execute all of them as the laws state. No amnesty, no pc bs by calling them anything other than what they are, Illegal aliens to the USA.

  • PeteWillits

    It’s interesting that AP did not say anything about the term “unauthorized immigrants.” That seems to be the best alternative.

  • http://forumsforjustice.com/forums/showpost.php?p=3997&postcount=13 Forums4Justice

    Illegals remain illegal