The Associated Press announced yesterday that they are changing how they are going to describe people living in a country illegally and will no longer sanction the use of the words “illegal immigrant” or “illegal” to describe such a person. The word “illegal” can now only be used to describe an action, according to Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll.
Carroll explained the change by saying that they have been trying to rid the Stylebook of labels, citing what they have done with mental health as an example:
The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of schizophrenic, for example.
And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to “illegal immigrant” again.
We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance.
So we have.
Is this the best way to describe someone in a country without permission? We believe that it is for now. We also believe more evolution is likely down the road.
Heaven forbid that we should offend anyone entering the country illegally.
Carroll admitted that these changes may make it difficult for writers at first, but offered no alternative, leaving them to try and find an acceptable term or word on their own.
It also has the effect—and I suspect this may be the real reason behind the change of softening the image of illegal immigrants—of making a pathway to citizenship more palatable to those who have opposed any kind of amnesty for those illegally residing in the U.S.
Here is how the new AP Stylebook entry reads:
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.
Writers should reject this change and call illegal immigrants what they are, rather than accede to the AP’s attempt to sway the political discussion.