Starting now, you will never see the "lazy" words "illegal immigrant" in another AP story unless they're quoting someone important saying it. That faint sound you hear is Senate reporters from the AP, The New York Times, and beyond smacking their delete keys, rethinking their agenda setting aloud, and figuring out how we talk now, amidst a serious legislative discussion, about the millions of
illegal immigrants people living in the U.S. without legal permission. AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll explains the timely style change:
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.
For immigration reform advocates, of course, this is a clear win. Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who entered the country when he was 12-years-old and does not have legal permission to live in the United States, had pushed the news organization to change its definition back in September. "The term dehumanizes and marginalizes the people it seeks to describe. Think of it this way, in what other context do we call someone illegal?" Vargas asked at the Online News Association's conference. "Being in a country without proper documents is a civil offense, not a criminal one."
The AP's decision also comes as Senators are putting the final touches on a bi-partisan plan for immigration reform, which will no doubt test the nuance and specificity of reporters — at the AP and elsewhere — who tend to be in a rush, even on such a weighty topic. Indeed, there's also a shift on a bigger level here: If an organization as big and influential as the AP is changing the way it uses words, will it perhaps pull or push other publications to strike that phrase?