Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Associated Press drops “Illegal Immigrant” from style guide

The Associated Press announced today that they would no longer be using the phrase “illegal immigrant” to describe a person without legal status in our country.

It might seem like inside baseball, but it’s actually a very important change. The AP stylebook is taught in every communications class, is used as a standard for journalistic writing, and directly or indirectly sets the tone for public discussion through the media.

By dropping the pejorative phrase, the AP has taken a step towards acknowledging the complexity of the issue and the important role of immigration in American culture and history. This excerpt from their announcement captures the weight of their decision:

“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…

…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.”

The last paragraph is particularly important. The death of the DREAM Act, which passed the House with a strong bipartisan 77-20 vote but was killed in the Senate Higher Education Committee, was a blow to progress in equality and social justice in our state. But changes like this show that, even if polices falter this legislative session, broader and deeper cultural change continues to bend the arc of history towards justice.