I was thrilled to hear today that the Associated Press, of which the Jackson Free Press is now a member, has rejected the use of "illegal" and "illegals" to describe undocumented immigrants. Media diversity expert Richard Prince blogs about the move:
The battle to eliminate use of the term "illegal" or "illegal alien" to describe human beings has been proceeding at least since 1994, when the four associations that staged the first Unity convention "issued a joint statement on the term 'illegal aliens':
" 'Except in direct quotations, do not use the phrase illegal alien or the word alien, in copy or in headlines, to refer to citizens of a foreign country who have come to the U.S. with no documents to show that they are legally entitled to visit, work or live here. Such terms are considered pejorative not only by those to whom they are applied but by many people of the same ethnic and national backgrounds who are in the U.S. legally,' " as a 2006 statement from the National Association of Black Journalists recalled.
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.)
Prince reported that The New York Times expected to follow suit, as early as this week.
It's about time. The Jackson Free Press has long adhered to the principle that a human being cannot be "illegal" and that the phrasing is not only not precise, but it is dehumanizing. We're glad that the AP and The New York Times have realized that it is no place of journalism to encourage offensive labels for human beings.