Every newspaper in existence adheres to some type of style to make sure copy is uniform. Many newspapers, although not all, use the Associated Press Stylebook to guide those decisions, but every paper makes its own style decisions on certain word choices.
However, illegal immigrant is one of those words that's been problematic for some newspapers and writers for some now. Last year, in response to the conversations taking place in newsrooms across the country, the Society of Professional Journalists finally passed a resolution recommending newsrooms stop using "illegal alien," and even questioned the term "illegal immigrant," in stories on immigration when describing undocumented immigrants.
It wasn't that long ago that AP said it was going to stick by illegal immigrant, as did the New York Times (locally the UA's Arizona Daily Wildcat, recently announced it decided to use the term undocumented).
Today, AP announced it was no longer using illegal immigrant in the Stylebook. The AP announcement stated it was making "some changes in how we describe people living in a country illegally."
From AP's Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll:
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.)
Those discussions continued even after AP affirmed “illegal immigrant” as the best use, for two reasons.
Also, we had in other areas been ridding the Stylebook of labels. 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.
Here's the new entry:
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.
According to a Poynter story on the change, the New York Times may be making a similar change. Could be a crazy day for anyone who uttered, "When hell freezes over."