The No-Brainer AP Decision: It’s Not About Politics

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 alienan illegalillegalsor 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:

Tweets on "illegal immigrant" AP Change

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.

Advertisements

6 comments

  1. Of all the things in the “bible” of journalism people are twisting their knickers over this? I’m actually surprised they dropped it (about time) as well as prohibited “undocumented.”

    It’s also worth noting that many news agencies have in-house guides that can supersede the AP – and the only requirement in adhering to it – is I you want the piece picked up by the “wire.”

    1. Agreed. This doesn’t necessarily change the way the game is played. The NYT is said to be revisiting the subject as well, though. Here’s hoping this is the beginning of a trend.

  2. You missed a big point. Illegal is a description of an action. It is not a description of a state of being. What you DO is legal or illegal. What you are exists outside of this concept (or should). I agree that it’s sad that the AP is just now saying that you must use words properly and with proper grammar.

      1. This is still improper use of the word “illegal” These items are contra-ban they are not crimes. The manufacture, distribution, use of etc can be crimes, and therefor illegal. Just because AP allows improper word usage does not make it proper word usage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s