New York Times Shamefully Wishy-Washy on Use of 'Illegal Immigrant'

Illustration for article titled emNew York Times/em Shamefully Wishy-Washy on Use of Illegal Immigrant

Claiming a concern for journalistic integrity, the New York Times announced today that they won't abolish the term "illegal immigrant" — although they cautioned their writers and reporters to use care with it. Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards, wrote "illegal immigrant may be used to describe someone who enters, lives in or works in the United States without proper legal authorization. But be aware that in the debate over immigration, some people view it as loaded or offensive." Uh, ya think?

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The style change is as follows:

Illegal immigrant may be used to describe someone who enters, lives in or works in the United States without proper legal authorization. But be aware that in the debate over immigration, some people view it as loaded or offensive. Without taking sides or resorting to euphemism, consider alternatives when appropriate to explain the specific circumstances of the person in question, or to focus on actions: who crossed the border illegally; who overstayed a visa; who is not authorized to work in this country.

Unauthorized is also an acceptable description, though it has a bureaucratic tone. Undocumented is the term preferred by many immigrants and their advocates, but it has a flavor of euphemism and should be used with caution outside quotations. Illegal immigration, because it describes the issue rather than an individual, is less likely than illegal immigrant to be seen as troubling.

Take particular care in describing people whose immigration status is complex or subject to change – for example, young people brought to this country as children, many of whom are eligible for temporary reprieves from deportation under federal policies adopted in 2012.

Do not use illegal as a noun, and avoid the sinister-sounding alien.

I don't get it — you can maintain journalistic integrity with the term "undocumented immigrant". The use of the word "illegal" has a loaded and ugly history (and that very much includes the media), and it remains far from impartial.

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When people directly affected by a painful term tell you that your words are actively hurting them — and you can use other words to report accurately — it's time to let it go. The AP and USA Today have successfully changed their style, and it hasn't altered reporting — it's time for the New York Times to nix the antiquated, offensive term.

[NY Times]

Image via AP — THE MUMMY!!

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DISCUSSION

Ubertrout
C.A. Pinkham

I much prefer the term "resident alien." I mean, that makes the situation sound more awesome than it actually is, but it's fun to say. Why do people think "alien" sounds sinister? Have they not seen Return of the Jedi? Admiral Akbar was the shit. If Spock was hanging out on Earth, he'd be a resident alien. Although I'm not sure if he'd be an Earth citizen, since his mom was human? Does the Federation even distinguish? Man, I'm excited for the new Star Trek movie. I wonder if Benedict Cumberbatch dies in this one. "Benedict Cumberbatch" is a funny name. Sometimes I call him "Cummerbund Bandersnatch" or "Bandicoot Cabbage Patch" or "Cheekbones McGillicutty." I miss Sherlock. Is it weird that I think Martin Freeman is surprisingly attractive? Does that mean I have some weird Hobbit fetish? I mean, I eat like a Hobbit, so that might not be that surprising. I wonder if we have any Bagel Bites left.

...this comment might possibly have gotten away from me.