Why San Antonio Express-News stopped using ‘illegal immigrant’ five years ago

For the San Antonio Express-News, the Associated Press’s style update on the term “illegal immigrant” is old news. Five years old, in fact.

Using the term “just didn’t feel comfortable with us,” said Jamie Stockwell, managing editor at the Express-News, which stopped using the term in 2008 and replaced it with “undocumented” or “unauthorized immigrant.” In 2010, the Express-News stopped using “immigrant” with a modifier altogether, and opted instead to talk about the issue by using “illegal immigration.”

“It just didn’t adequately describe people who didn’t have the proper documentation to live in America,” Stockwell said.

If a person has immigrated illegally, the Express-News will report that “‘the person was in the country illegally’ and then cite the source of the information,” said Stockwell. The AP now advises journalists to use similar conventions, a move AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said in a statement was part of a broader movement at the organization moving towards “ridding the Stylebook of labels.”

Stockwell said it was rewarding to see the AP adopt the change.

“We’ve been excited in the newsroom,” she said. “We’ve been opposed to ‘illegal immigrant’ and the worst, ‘illegal’” (as a noun) for some time. Stockwell says the change in AP style is part of a broader movement on the part of publications to adopt a style they feel is “much more accurate and much more sensitive to what is very much an emotional issue.”

Some of that emotion spilled onto the Internet Tuesday:

Related: Margaret Sullivan: The New York Times may change style on “illegal immigrant” (The New York Times)

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  • dbuck12

    Other examples: motorists without insurance are called uninsured drivers, rather than illegal drivers. Unlicensed cabbies, not illegal cabbies; unlicensed brokers, not illegal brokers; ringers, not illegal contestants. And so on. Dan