The Associated Press has banned the term “illegal immigrant” from its stylebook.
The ruling came Tuesday and has fueled debate on both sides of the issue.
Hispanic groups and immigration activists long have decried use of the term, saying that people are not illegal, actions are.
That’s the view taken by the new entry, emailed to subscribers of the Associated Press Stylebook. The new entry, “illegal immigration” replaces the old entry “illegal immigrant.”
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“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,” the new entry reads.
Associated Press Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll explained the reasons for the change on the AP’s blog. After a lot of discussion, she said, “A number of people felt that ‘illegal immigrant’ was the best choice at the time.”
But language evolves, Carroll said, and the AP strives to stay current.
The problem, she noted, is that “illegal immigrant” assigns a label to people, The wire services already had made changes in medical diagnoses for the mentally ill she noted, and the “illegal immigration” entry was a natural outgrowth.
The stylebook now advises saying someone was “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of schizophrenic, Carroll said. “We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance. So we have.”
Carroll said that while the AP believes its current guidance is the best for now, “We also believe more evolution is likely down the road. … Change is a part of AP Style because the English language is constantly evolving, enriched by new words, phrases and uses.”
Reactions, naturally, were mixed.
"You're next, @nytimes, @latimes, @washingtonpost, @WSJ. No human being is illegal," Jose Antonio Vargas of the group Define America tweeted.
“AP won't accept 'illegal immigrant' to describe a person; Will it stop accepting 'fetus'?” conservative blogger Michelle Malkin’s TwitchyTeam said.
“I'm less worried re labels & more so re addressing issue,” Republican strategist Ana Navarro tweeted.
The full AP entry follows:
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.
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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