AP Bans ‘Illegal Immigrant’: The Tricky Language of Immigration Reform

Immigration Activists Demonstrate In Los Angeles

It’s nice to see that the power and politics embedded in discourse and language has begun to creep into the mainstream in the case of immigration reform. At the very least, the notion that “No One is Illegal” is now entertained in the mainstream, and the connection between discourse and policy is under consideration, marks the beginning of an essential conversation. While it remains to be seen where this is going, in places like Arizona, home of the infamous SB 1070, these moves are likely to be applauded. The ultimate outcomes remain uncertain.


There’s a snappy saying used to promote cultural sensitivity toward Asian-Americans and their heritage: rugs are Oriental, people are Asian. The corollary in today’s national conversation about immigration reform might go something like this: “Actions are illegal, people are undocumented.” That is, unless you’re a reporter for the Associated Press, for whom the terms illegal immigrant and undocumented immigrant are now both verboten.

(COVER STORY: Not Legal, and Not Leaving)

On Tuesday, when the news service announced that its thousands of reporters would no longer be using those terms, it was a victory for activists who have argued that no person should be described as “illegal.” But the lack of suggested alternatives highlights a potential headache for journalists, politicians and others who regularly talk and write about people who are in the United States without proper documentation: which words do they use now?

The Associated Press says their update is…

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