First they came for the word terrorist, persuading the news agency Reuters to substitute freedom fighter instead. Now they are back for illegal immigrant, but this time their target is the Associated Press, the largest news-gathering outlet in the world and the widely acknowledged keeper of the flame: The AP is publisher and steward of the AP Stylebook, which is the bible of usage for countless newspapers and websites, including the present one.
AP itself broke the news Tuesday on its blog, with Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll explaining the organization’s thinking. In brief, she notes that AP has long been moving away from labels. “Instead of schizophrenic,” she writes by way of example, AP’s preference is “diagnosed with schizophrenia.”
Returning to the main theme, Carroll writes that after much teeth-gnashing and soul-searching, AP came up with the following no-labels addition to its Stylebook:
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 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.
If you’re holding your breath in anticipation of the acceptable noun phrase replacement for illegal immigrant, you can exhale. There isn’t any. It is now up to writers to dance around the topic or invent their own cumbersome periphrastic construction for illegal immigrant. Carroll herself recognizes the problem this will cause, writing earlier in the blog post:
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.
But the solution is not without its flaws. Consider the following sentences from extant news articles along with their revisions. (In each case emphasis has been added.) The first, fittingly, is an AP news release picked up by New York’s Daily News:
Original: A judge found an illegal immigrant from Bolivia guilty of murder on Monday in a car crash that killed a Benedictine nun.
Rewrite: A judge found a man from Bolivia who was in the country illegally guilty of murder on Monday in a car crash that killed a Benedictine nun.
Better still is this lede from the Bangor Daily News, which uses the offending term twice in a single sentence:
Original: Brothers and restaurateurs Hector and Guillermo Fuentes were found guilty Monday of multiple counts of harboring illegal aliens to work in their three Mexican eateries, as well as helping the undocumented workers obtain fraudulent papers.
Rewrite: Brothers and restaurateurs Hector and Guillermo Fuentes were found guilty Monday of multiple counts of harboring people in the country without legal permission to work in their three Mexican eateries, as well as helping the workers living in the country illegally obtain fraudulent papers.
Needless to say, cleansing the language of the term illegal immigrant won’t eliminate the problem of illegal immigration, but at least the move provided a laugh, if inadvertently, to Tonight Show viewers. (Whoops! Make that “people whose TV sets were tuned into a channel that carries NBC’s Tonight show.”) Here was Jay Leno last night:
- NYC Dept of Ed publishes its list of 50 ‘forbidden words’
- Time to ethnically cleanse English? Not a Chinaman’s chance
- DNC chair: GOP wants to make illegal immigration “a crime” (Video)
- College orders construction crew to remove sexist ‘men working’ sign
- UNC drops term ‘freshman’ in favor of ‘gender-inclusive’ language
- ESPN erred in its handling of the Jeremy Lin kerfuffle
- MSNBC calls AP racist for dropping final g’s in transcribing Obama’s speech
- Is Obama planning to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants without a Congressional vote?