The Associated Press, the largest news-gathering outlet in the world will no longer use the term “illegal immigrant.” saying the term illegal relates to an action not a person. On the positive side they also reject the undocumented term A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence.
The news came in the form of a blog entry authored by Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll on Tuesday afternoon, explaining that the decision is part of the company’s on-going attempt to rid their Stylebook of labels.
The AP Stylebook today is making some changes in how we describe people living in a country illegally.
The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term “illegal immigrant” or the use of “illegal” to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that “illegal” should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.
Why did we make the change?
The discussions on this topic have been wide-ranging and include many people from many walks of life. (Earlier, they led us to reject descriptions such as “undocumented,” despite ardent support from some quarters, because it is not precise. A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence.)
Those discussions continued even after AP affirmed “illegal immigrant” as the best use, for two reasons.
A number of people felt that “illegal immigrant” was the best choice at the time. They also believed the always-evolving English language might soon yield a different choice and we should stay in the conversation.
Also, we had in other areas been ridding the Stylebook of labels. The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of schizophrenic, for example.
And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to “illegal immigrant” again.
We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance.
So we have.
Is this the best way to describe someone in a country without permission? We believe that it is for now. We also believe more evolution is likely down the road.
Will the new guidance make it harder for writers? Perhaps just a bit at first. But while labels may be more facile, they are not accurate.
I suspect now we will hear from some language lovers who will find other labels in the AP Stylebook. We welcome that engagement. Get in touch at [email protected] or, if you are an AP Stylebook Online subscriber, through the “Ask the Editor” page.
Change is a part of AP Style because the English language is constantly evolving, enriched by new words, phrases and uses. Our goal always is to use the most precise and accurate words so that the meaning is clear to any reader anywhere.
What nonsense! The term illegal immigrant is perfectly acceptable and describes the criminally trespassing alien. The word Illegal is modifying the term immigrant…they are called adjectives. Does the AP really expect their writers to substitute, person who came into the country illegally for the two words…Illegal Immigrant????
I have a compromise how about calling them criminally trespassing aliens? Its much better than the long phrase and it is only three words.
It’s hard to believe that adults are having this silly PC Conversation.