The Associated Press is getting with the times. After defending the inclusion of the term “illegal immigrant” as appropriate as recently as October, they’re doing an about face. As they clarified on their blog today:
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 inor entering a country illegally or without legal permission.
Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegalsor 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.
My first reaction was to cheer. I guess I sort of anticipated I’d see the same tone reflected in my Twitter feed. Except… I didn’t. I did see a fair amount of mocking of the rule change, so I started perusing the stream of tweets specific to the topic across the Twitterverse. A sampling:
Ok, so some of this is to be expected, given the sources. But let’s be clear:
THIS IS NOT ABOUT “NOT OFFENDING” INDIVIDUALS WHO HAVE IMMIGRATED HERE ILLEGALLY.
THIS IS NOT ABOUT TAKING A STAND ON IMMIGRATION REFORM.
THIS IS ABOUT THE FACT THAT NO INDIVIDUAL IS INHERENTLY “ILLEGAL.”
THIS IS ABOUT THE FACT THAT NO INDIVIDUAL IS INHERENTLY WORTH LESS THAN ANOTHER INDIVIDUAL.
THIS IS ABOUT LANGUAGE CHOICES THAT REFLECT THIS REALITY.
When we diminish the worth of a human being with adjectives like “illegal,” it shifts the tone of the conversation to one rife with accusation and vitriol. When we instead describe actions with negative descriptors, the conversation becomes about the behavior, not the person. It may seem like a small change, but it’s the difference between demonizing a large group of people and criticizing a decision.
We can still have the immigration reform debate. There’s a lot to discuss. But in the meantime, let’s show a little respect for our fellow human beings. Even if you don’t agree with their choices, that doesn’t make them bad people. Let’s not pretend it does.