It was big news in journalism, because the AP Stylebook's usage guidelines are the ones followed by most of us in the news media. A few publications, including the Los Angeles Times, have their own stylebooks and have yet to weigh in:
The biggest paper in the West, the one with the most on the line when it comes to immigration coverage, has been re-evaluating its rules for the term for months, the paper's VP for communications, Nancy Sullivan, told the Weekly:
The Los Angeles Times' Standards and Practices Committee has been studying this issue for several months and has not yet reached a decision on whether to recommend a style along the lines of what AP has announced.
Following the AP's move yesterday, the New York Times, which had in recent months defended its use of the term, said it had already been re-evaluating its own usage when it comes to those who came here illegally.
The AP argues that reporters shouldn't describe a human as inherently illicit for one action — that the action itself should be described. In other words, it recommends calling these folks people who came here illegally.
The organization even said “undocumented immigrant” doesn't work anymore, since many of those newcomers have some form of documentation, even if it's a home-country ID card.
Immigrants' advocates have decried the term “illegal immigrant” for years.
For the record, here's what the Los Angeles Times' style guide says about using the term today:
Use this term in referring to citizens of foreign countries who have come to the country with no passport, visa or other document to show that they are entitled to visit, work or live in the United States.
Do not use illegal aliens or illegals except in direct quotes.
The nouns alien and illegal should not appear in headlines.
The term undocumented immigrant is acceptable as a synonym for illegal immigrant under certain conditions, such as when a form of the word illegal already appears in a sentence. Example: Although their parents are not legally eligible for welfare, the children of undocumented immigrants qualify for benefits.
Take care in assigning people the status of illegal immigrants. Those arrested by border police are held or deported by the INS if they are suspected of being illegal immigrants. It is wrong to accuse someone of illegal activity if it is untrue. We cannot know without asking, for example, whether particular day workers are illegal immigrants or immigrants at all.