AP Stylebook Discontinues Use Of The Term “Illegal Immigrants”

April 3, 2013  |  

The AP Stylebook dictates the words, abbreviations, and phrases used at media outlets around the world. When they say you can’t say something it has far-reaching repercussions.

So when the Stylebook says you can no longer use the words “illegal immigrant,” it’s a pretty big deal. In a post on the guide’s blog, SVP and executive editor Kathleen Carroll says:

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.

The decision is a reversal of its previous endorsement of the term. However, the blog goes on to say that the English language — and what’s deemed acceptable — is an ever-changing thing. Though some terminology is fine at one point, it’s not uncommon for it to fall out of favor, become outdated, or become widely seen as offensive. On that latter point, Carroll talks about “labeling” and how the Stylebook must be careful about that.

The guideline now reads:

illegal immigration Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

Moreover, when someone is in a country illegally, the AP asks that the writer specify the conditions, such as an expired visa. Children shouldn’t be described as entering a country illegally. And if a story is describing an immigration violation, it must attribute a source.

The New York Times is considering a change to its standard as well.

What do you think of the new phrasing?

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