AP Bans ‘Illegal Alien’ for Aliens Here Illegally

Illegal aliens will henceforth be be called, well, something.

Illegal aliens will henceforth be be called, well, something.

ABC News (“Associated Press Drops ‘Illegal Immigrant’ From Stylebook“):

The Associated Press, the largest news-gathering outlet in the world, will no longer use the term “illegal immigrant.”

The news came in the form of a blog entry authored by Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll on Tuesday afternoon, explaining that the decision is part of the company’s on-going attempt to rid their Stylebook of labels.

“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,” Carroll wrote.

The company’s decision comes after years of controversy over the term. Fusion, the ABC-Univision joint venture, does not use “illegal immigrant” because we believe it dehumanizes those it describes and we find it to be linguistically inaccurate.

We wrote last year about how most of America’s top college newspapersand major TV networks, including ABC, NBC and CNN, have vowed to stop using the term. Nearly half of Latino voters polled last year in a Fox News Latino survey said that they find the term “illegal immigrant” offensive. A coalition of linguists also came together last year to pressure media companies to drop “illegal immigrant,” calling it “neither neutral nor accurate.” And some critics of the term, like journalist Maria Hinojosa, argue that those newsrooms that have continued to classify people as “illegal” lack diversity.

Carroll’s post is rather unhelpful as to appropriate substitute language:

 The discussions on this topic have been wide-ranging and include many people from many walks of life. (Earlier, they led us to reject descriptions such as “undocumented,” despite ardent support from some quarters, because it is not precise. A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence.)

Also, we had in other areas been ridding the Stylebook of labels. The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of schizophrenic, for example.

And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to “illegal immigrant” again.

We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance.

So we have.

Is this the best way to describe someone in a country without permission? We believe that it is for now. We also believe more evolution is likely down the road.

Alaska Rep. Don Young’s attempts notwithstanding, wetback is unlikely to return. So, inmigrante sin permiso? That’s gonna take a while to catch on.

No word whether Phil Collins is grandfathered.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Media, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tsar Nicholas says:

    When a political agenda trumps a desire to report news there will be problems. When said political agenda is that of liberal idiocy the problem will be far worse. Shit, the only way the mass media could become more of a parody of itself is if they started deceptively editing videos to attain a partisan political slant in their coverage. Oh, right.

    Speaking of illegal immigration, postulate this for a few moments:

    What if back in 2005-2006 Bush Derangement Syndrome had not taken root, the political classes along with the media and the academe were not utterly retarded, and Congress actually had enacted the Bush reform package and then the administration and its successor had gone ahead and enforced it? It’s 2013. Think of how much further along we’d be in dealing with the multilayered snafu of illegal aliens. How much higher paid wages would be in various segments of the labor pools. How much more tax revenue would be on the books instead of under the table and out of sight. How much further along the barrios could have been. How many law enforcement resources could have been redirected to other, more pressing concerns, e.g., terrorism. Boggles the mind.

  2. Dave Weigel came up with a good one on Twitter: Immigrants san frontieres

  3. Murray says:

    AP and other news outlets are dropping the term “illegal immigrant”. “Illegal alien” was never in their book, and rightfully so.

    Wether the term “illegal immigrant” is dehumanizing or not is debatable. But “illegal alien” clearly adds a pejorative flavor as if these people came from outer space and had nothing in common with you and I.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Murray: “Alien” is still a legal term of art having nothing to do with being from outer space. See, for example, the IRS “Taxation of Resident Aliens.”

  5. Nikki says:

    What’s wrong with “undocumented”?

  6. Murray says:

    @James Joyner Please don’t give me that shite. Have you ever heard anyone refer to immigrants (legal ones) as aliens? There is a reason the term alien is used in public discourse associated with illegal.

  7. Brett says:

    “Unauthorized Immigrant” is more of a mouthful, but I think it’s the most accurate, least-loaded term. “Undocumented” is euphemistic, like the key problem is that they don’t have papers or that we don’t have them registered instead of them being here illegally.

  8. rudderpedals says:

    Just plain “immigrant” works. Or “migrant” if that applies. But go ahead and throw out the all presumptions of innocence. “Illegal immigrant” is a defamatory on its face absent some kind of adjudication.

  9. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Nikki: What’s wrong with “undocumented”?

    Absolutely nothing. In fact, let’s run with it.

    Bank robberies will be “undocumented withdrawals.”

    Rapes will be “undocumented romantic liaisons.”

    Murders will be “undocumented executions.”

    Assaults will be “undocumented boxing matches.”

    Home invasions will be “undocumented visitations.”

    Auto theft will be “undocumented vehicle transfers.”

    Any other suggestions?

  10. JWH says:

    I always found “illegal alien” to be an accurate description, but I cringe at the use of the word “illegal” as a noun.

  11. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @rudderpedals: Just plain “immigrant” works. Or “migrant” if that applies. But go ahead and throw out the all presumptions of innocence. “Illegal immigrant” is a defamatory on its face absent some kind of adjudication.

    So, you see no distinction between those who follow the laws and come here legally, and those who flout them and do as they please?

    That is defamatory to our welcomed guests who have demonstrated their respect for us and our ways by doing it legally. Further, it tells them that they were idiots for not simply ignoring the rules — because we’re removing the legal distinction between the two.

  12. Latino_in_Boston says:

    I also like unauthorized immigrant, which captures the specific legal condition, but doesn’t make it sound like it’s a permanent state of being which vitiates immigration discourse.

  13. gVOR08 says:

    Reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw last year:

  14. rudderpedals says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: I don’t see injury to those other people. Until a court adjudicates a person already here holding himself out as as American to be illegal I welcome them as Americans. It’s a really big country. I’m good without the pejorative.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    What if back in 2005-2006 Bush Derangement Syndrome had not taken root, the political classes along with the media and the academe were not utterly retarded, and Congress actually had enacted the Bush reform package…

    Who knew that hardcore right-wing types had Bush Derangement Syndrome…they didn’t show much of that while he was in office…as for being utterly retarded, obviously the person who typed those words hasn’t involved himself in much self-reflection or even just looked into a mirror lately…

    Bank robberies will be “undocumented withdrawals.”

    Rapes will be “undocumented romantic liaisons.”

    Murders will be “undocumented executions.”

    Assaults will be “undocumented boxing matches.”

    Home invasions will be “undocumented visitations.”

    Auto theft will be “undocumented vehicle transfers.”

    How interesting that Mexicans and others coming to this country to try to make better lives for themselves are now in the same category as people who commit a whole host of violent crimes…

  16. superdestroyer says:

    Image how hard writing or discussing politics is going to be in the future if the left has total control over what terms can and cannot be used. If everyone thinks of them as “undocumented workers” then the only solution becomes to just give them some documents. No thought will be allowed on how having a lrage number of people enter the U.S. illegally, work with fake documents, and scamming the government every chance they get can possibly affect the future of the U.S.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    …and scamming the government every chance they get…

    Yes, of course, because that’s all that they are worried about…it’s so nice to see that such views are present here…

  18. superdestroyer says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Even ice admits it but of course, it is part of reality that progressives are now allowed to acknowledge. http://www.ice.gov/identity-benefit-fraud/

  19. An Interested Party says:

    Even ice admits it…

    Oh I see…so since a government agency has a plan in place to combat fraud that must mean that the “large number of people” entering the country are “scamming the government every chance they get”…perhaps you should examine your regressive views instead of whining about progressives…

  20. Tyrell says:

    Political correctness gone to seed. I have respect for immigrants, even those who are here illegally.
    Most of them are hardworking, have strong family values, are religious, obey the law, and try to better themselves. I believe that they come here looking for a better life and opportunities, not some sort of handouts. What the AP is doing is like if you do not talk about a problem or ignore it
    or call it something else it will just go away. This is the direct opposite of what journalism is supposed to be. I also see where this could have a chilling, restrictive effect on reporters. The news media today is descending more and more into nothing but propaganda and brainwashing.
    The internet will be next to undergo this sort of sanitizing, deodorized, censored and controlled speech. The bigger question is to what end ? I am beginning to believe that trying not to hurt someone’s feelings is not the reason for this type of action. It has more to do with controlling people’s overall behavior and actions. Look at the hostile reactions, threats, and sanctions that occur when a small group of people get offended. The news media. or the controllers of the news media make a huge scene out of it, for someone’s advantage.

  21. wr says:

    @Tyrell: Once again we must ask: Can anything happen anywhere in the world that is not a cause for conservative self-pity?

  22. Tyrell says:

    @An Interested Party: “violent crimes” No they are not in the same category as violent criminals, bank robbers, gang members, or drug pushers.
    Here is a better analogy: if I manage to sneak into a movie theater or theme park (which would not be easy to do) and get caught then according to the AP then I am not a trespasser but an “undocumented customer”.

  23. Jimbo OPKS says:

    @Nikki: Usually they are documented. Its just that the documents are illegally forged. So, we are back to illegal.

  24. Franklin says:

    If there’s a better, simple term (I do like ‘unauthorized immigrant’), by all means use it. If there’s not, just use the term everybody already understands. So we can, you know, communicate. Not everything has to be complicated.

    I still call one of my close relatives retarded as I have for 30+ years. Because he is mentally retarded. Learning happens at a retarded pace for him. That’s a fact. Nobody around here cries about it.

  25. Tyrell says:

    @Jimbo OPKS: The next thing will be that “immigrant” is no longer acceptable. Would “non native” be acceptable?

  26. al-Ameda says:

    some possibilities:

    (1) “inexpensive labor force”?
    (2) “non-citizens who make conservatives angry”?
    Although, that probably includes Obama, right?
    (3) “friends of Jan Brewer and Tom Tancredo”?

    or, (4) my preference for reasons of brevity, “illegals”?

  27. Justinian says:

    Here is a lexicon of terms for people to use or avoid when speaking or writing on this issue:

    Unlawful alien How the U.S. Dept. of Justice referred to these people in its suit against Arizona law SB 1070. Neat, clean, and accurate, it will never be adopted by the mainstream media.

    Immigrant Though favored by the media, this term is at variance with federal statutory law. The various H visas, for example, are called non-immigrant visas in the wording of Immigration Act of 1990. Nevertheless, courts interpreting federal statutory law use this term which at variance with the very statutory law they claim to be interpreting – – a bit of mental acrobatics they have performed with ease in the past.

    Undocumented This term, also favored by the media, is predicated on the idea that the right to live and work in this country is a thing of low value. Automobiles are things of high value in this country, and people without car registrations are presumed to hold their vehicles as stolen property until they can prove otherwise. With items of low value, the burden of proof falls the other way. The public is not deceived, though, and takes the word “undocumented” as synonymous with “illegal.”

    As noted in the main article, the term “undocumented” is often simply inaccurate. Indeed, many of these people have a document called the matricula consular card, which does fully and legally document them to be citizens – – of Mexico.

    Undocumented worker Another favorite term, this time emphasizing these people’s role in the U.S. economy. Lost on nearly everyone is how easily the country is happy to have such a substantial part of its labor force be of nearly arbitrarily exploitable people with virtually no legal or political rights. And the country thought it had eternally rid itself of this kind of practice in the 1860s.

    Pre-citizen A story goes that an agent at the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency was so disgusted with their policy of non-enforcement of immigration law that he wrote this term sarcastically in a note to his superior. The term may now be added to the lexicon, its sarcastic origin being left behind in the dustbin of history.

    Illegal alien A common phrase, but a bit of a metonymy. It is the person’s presence in the country that is illegal, not the person himself – – if being freely allowed to do something and having the laws against it go almost completely unenforced can be called illegal.

    Person of foreign citizenship A good, dignified phrase, but one that does not distinguish those in this country legally from those here illegally.

    Person whose presence in this country is illegal Another good, accurate phrase, but for one problem: the immigration laws are so little enforced that calling any of this “illegal” is a bit pedantic.

    In discussing this issue in print or with others, take your pick of terms. Everyone else does.

  28. truth says:

    Who cares they are all just trashy gangbanging beaners. They can’t even take care of their own country and sure as shit do not respect ours.

  29. Rob in CT says:

    Meh. This is silly PC. Much whining and crying about PC is bullshit, but this actually fits the bill.

    They’re aliens and they’re here illegally. Illegal aliens. It’s accurate.


  30. Erik Berls says:

    I’m just waiting for the AP (and other media) to go back and rewrite previous articles with the new lexicon.

    1984: We’re just behind schedule.

  31. An Interested Party says:

    Who cares they are all just trashy gangbanging beaners. They can’t even take care of their own country and sure as shit do not respect ours.

    It’s no wonder that some would be sensitive about which labels to use when we have bigoted asshole opinions like the above that probably aren’t rare…