Is the AP Right to Stop Using the Term "Illegal Immigrant?"

The influential Stylebook now says media outlets should no longer describe people as "illegal."


Kathleen Carroll, the AP's executive editor

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The Associated Press Tuesday announced that the organization's widely used (including by U.S. News & World Report) stylebook no longer uses the term "illegal immigrant" to describe a person in the United States without legal permission. The change marks a reversal of the organization's previous defense of its use of the term.

AP now says news organizations should use the word "illegal" only in reference to an action, rather than a person. Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll explained that although "illegal immigrant was the best choice" at one point, the organization's effort to eliminate the use of labels led them to the decision. She said AP felt that to remain consistent it must also reject the label "illegal" as applied to people:

It's kind of a lazy device that those of us who type for a living can become overly reliant on as a shortcut … 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.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]

The stylebook now instructs:

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.

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Is the Senate's Immigration Deal a Good Plan?]

Critics like the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC's President William Gheen calling it a "Big Brother move." He said his group will instead start using the term "illegal invader" because the word "immigrant" should only refer to people who come into the United States legally. Of the decision, he said, "It's the most run-amok PC thing I've ever seen in my life. It's political correctness on steroids."

But Jose Antonio Vargas, a reporter who came to the United States illegally and has become an outspoken advocate on immigration, said the decision has nothing to do with being politically correct. "What I hope is this is just the beginning of a conversation for newsrooms across America," he said.

[ Take the U.S. News Poll: Can Labor and Business Really Back the Same Immigration Reform?]

The New York Times, which does not use AP Style, also announced Tuesday it is reconsidering use of the term "illegal immigrant."

What do you think? Is the AP right to stop the use of the term "illegal immigrant?" Take the poll and comment below.

This poll is now closed, but the debate continues in the comments section.