Illegal or Not Illegal: Some Newspaper Folks Have a Preference

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Last year, we brought up the use of the term "illegal immigrant" on the Range and it's been a discussion, albeit short and sweet, during Weekly World Central staff meetings.

While typically when it comes to newspaper style we refer to the AP Stylebook, but like almost every other newspaper on the planet, sometimes we don't and for different reasons we choose our own style for a few words here and there. It's not science and you have to be flexible because, for example, maybe you've worked for 10 papers and every paper had a different preference for douchebag — one word, two words, hyphenated, publisher too conservative so no go.

The AP Stylebook, the reporter's journalism bible, when referring to undocumented workers or undocumented immigrants, says use illegal immigrant. Last year, according to the Society of Professional Journalists' blog we mentioned, the argument was brought up that reporters needed to end using illegal and for good reason:

For those news writers who insist on using the phrase “illegal immigrant” (or perhaps because it is a required, company policy); add the modifying adjective “suspected,” as “pro” journalists do when writing about arrestees or police suspects.

A fundamental legal principle in our American constitutional law is that everyone (including non-citizens) is considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Consistent with that basic doctrine of law, journalists are urged to use the phrase “undocumented immigrant,” and avoid the denigrative phrases “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien.”

This week, at a SPJ meeting, the organization decided to formally recommend to newsrooms to stop using the terms "illegal immigrant" or "illegal alien":

The Society of Professional Journalists, hearing an emotional plea from Rebecca Aguilar, a member of SPJ and of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, voted Tuesday to recommend that newsrooms discontinue using the terms "illegal alien" and "illegal immigrant." The resolution from the 7,800-member organization says only courts can decide when a person has committed an illegal act.

Aguilar argued that using those words insulted Latinos and all those who are or had once been in the United States illegally. She used the example of her mother, who became a "proud American" in 1980. Her mother felt insulted "every time she heard that word," Aguilar said of the phrase "illegal alien."

"She turned the tide," the new president-elect, Sonny Albarado, projects editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, said of Aguilar. "She delivered the statement with such passion. After that, there was just a great overwhelming outpouring of support." Aguilar, a freelance broadcaster in Dallas, is a board member of NAHJ and of the Fort Worth SPJ chapter, was an SPJ "diversity fellow," and is a new member of SPJ's Diversity Committee.

Here's another perspective on the debate published recently on AlterNet you can look at here.

At Weekly World Central what words we use to describe people who are in this country illegally or without papers remains split. Some writers are allowed to use illegal alien and some writers are allowed to use undocumented immigrant and personally chose to stay away from illegal or alien. This is Arizona after all, so rather than referring to the Stylebook, you have to remain flexible and once in a while have a friendly discussion during staff meetings and then ... get back to work.

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