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Associated Press ban on term 'illegal immigrant' gets mixed reviews

April 03, 2013|By Marisa Gerber and Cindy Chang
  • A file photo of a citizenship ceremony in Los Angeles.
A file photo of a citizenship ceremony in Los Angeles. (Los Angeles Times )

A decision by Associated Press to stop using the term "illegal immigrant" continued to generate debate Wednesday, with the move attracting support and derision.

The Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, which advocates for measures to combat illegal immigration, said it will begin using the term "illegal invaders."

William Gheen, the group's president, called AP's decision a "Big Brother" move. The term "immigrant" should be reserved for people who came to this country legally, he told The Times on Wednesday.

"It's the most run-amok PC thing I've ever seen in my life. It's political correctness on steroids," Gheen said.

To John Bridgeman, 70, who emigrated from Britain three decades ago and lives in Monrovia, said he doesn't see much of a distinction between calling someone an illegal immigrant and saying the person lives in the country illegally.

"Either way is OK with me," he said, through a shrug. Reading the term "illegal immigrant" in the newspaper doesn't pique his attention, he said.

"It's just a descriptor; it's not offensive," Bridgeman said. After a pause, he added: "But then again, I'm not an illegal immigrant."

David Cardoze, however, appreciates AP's change.

The 39-year-old who emigrated from Panama in 1991 and is a legal resident of the U.S., says when he reads the term "illegal immigrant" in the newspaper "it jumps out."

"People try to avoid it. At least the people I hang out with," Cardoze said. "Even though legally maybe it's accurate, I still don't like it."

Cardoze said he hopes other news organizations follow AP's lead and ditch the term.

When Rocio Alvarez sees the phrase "inmigrantes ilegales" in print, it gives her pause.

She says she doesn't find the phrase wildly offensive, but she does notice it. "It leaves you waiting for a moment," Alvarez said in Spanish. "You pause a bit to think about the word."

For Alvarez, 44, the term is personal. She left her home -- the Mexican state of Puebla -- in 1997 to find work in Los Angeles. "When people asked, I said I was illegal," she recalls, in Spanish. "It felt bad. It felt ugly saying it. But I used it because it's what I'd heard. It's what people understood."

AP announced the change Tuesday. In a blog post, Associated Press Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll wrote:

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.)

The new policy notes that "illegal" should refer to an action, not a person. "Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission," AP says.


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