The Associated Press yesterday announced a decision that could change the shape of immigration coverage, including headlines. The news-gathering collective publishes the very influential Associated Press Stylebook, considered a bible among journalists when it comes to style and usage. When the AP makes stylebook changes, reporters notice — and this change certainly will be no exception.
According to yesterday’s announcement, no longer are the labels “illegal” (as a noun) or “illegal immigrant” considered desirable usage. The newly-revised entry, in full (our emphasis added in italics):
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.
Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegals or undocumented.
Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.
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 term ‘illegal immigrants’ has been convenient for use in headlines, where space is at a premium. However, it’s unnecessarily reductionist and often inaccurate. The individual people affected by immigration issues often have their own unique circumstances. And the use of such headlines sometimes encourages the misgiuded notion that one can easily tell, by sight or otherwise, who came to the country legally. In short, such usage does no one any favors. The AP made a logical and positive change here.