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New York Times reconsidering exclusionary term ‘illegal immigrant’

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By: Obert Madondo The Canadian Progressive

No Human Being Is IllegalLast week, the Associated Press ditched the demeaning and exclusionary term “illegal immigrant”. Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in 2011, responded with: “It was inevitable. It was just a matter of time.”

The New York Times called the AP decision “bold” and announced that it, too, is now reconsidering the term. That’s according to Margaret Sullivan, the Times’ public editor.

Sullivan blogged in the Public Editor’s Journal on April 2 :

The Associated Press made a bold move on Tuesday in dropping the term “illegal immigrant” from its influential stylebook.

The Times, for the past couple of months, has also been considering changes to its stylebook entry on this term and will probably announce them to staff members this week. (A stylebook is the definitive guide to usage, relied upon by writers and editors, for the purpose of consistency.)

From what I can gather, The Times’s changes will not be nearly as sweeping as The A.P.’s.

It will “provide more nuance and options” for what term to use, said Philip B. Corbett, associate managing editor for standards. In the past, for example, the term “undocumented” has practically been banned as a euphemism. That position is very likely to be softened in the revision, and other ways of describing those who are in the United States without proper legal documentation probably will be allowed and encouraged.

I would be surprised to see The Times ban the use of “illegal immigrant,” as The A.P. has done. Kathleen Carroll, the A.P.’s senior vice president and executive editor, told Poynter.org that terms like this end up “pigeonholing people or creating long descriptive titles where you use some main event in someone’s life to become the modifier before their name.”

The Times’s changes will probably be more incremental.

It’s good to see these moves taking place. Language evolves and it’s time for these changes. Early in my tenure as public editor, I considered this question and came down in favor of the continued use of “illegal immigrant,” because it was a clear and easily understandable term. My position on this has changed over the past several months. So many people find it offensive to refer to a person with an adjective like “illegal” that I now favor the use of “undocumented” or “unauthorized” as alternatives.

It’s important to state that I have not taken part in The Times’s discussion about the changes and that I have no policy-making role.

Originally published on The Canadian Progressive

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