Immigrants' advocates have long argued that entering the United States without permission makes you about as much an illegal immigrant as blowing through a stop sign makes you an illegal driver.
In other words, they have said, nobody can be the embodiment of illicit activity for crossing a boundary. The Associated Press today seemed to agree:
After confirming last year that the use of “illegal immigrant” to identify people who we often call “undocumented” was okay, the AP today announced that it changed its mind. The term is no longer cool to use.
So what, you say.
Well, many publications, including this one, rely on the AP Stylebook to decide such things. Some, including the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, have their own, in-house style guides. But it's not really economical for every paper in the nation to work on their own such books (though the Weekly does have some deviations from AP).
We have used illegal immigrant if only because readers know exactly what we're talking about. It gets the point across, even if it's imprecise.
The AP said today that it will strive not to label people but rather their behavior. It's new Stylebook entry on the topic says:
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.
Why not “undocumented?” The AP argues that people here illegally often have plenty of documents. They're just not here with permission. (Splitting hairs, innit?).
Alex Nogales, chief of the L.A.-based National Hispanic Media Coalition, which was part of a “Drop the i-Word” campaign, was happy:
We applaud AP for its decision to stop using the word “illegal” to describe human beings. For far too long, this term has been accepted as a politically correct way for some to spew hatred, xenophobia, and fear throughout our communities. At a certain point, it lost any descriptive qualities and became nothing more than a slur used to dehumanize and degrade a very important part of our country. I'm pleased to see the word “illegal” following the path of other slurs such as “wetback” as words that are not acceptable to use in our discourse. We hope that outlets that continue to use this word will follow the lead of the AP and do away with it in short order.
The New York Times, which in recent months defended its use of the term, says it's now reconsidering it.
The Los Angeles Times? We reached out to a rep on this. No word yet.