Journalists: ‘Illegal Immigrant’ Term Not Constitutional

Official AP guidelines contradict group's stance

SAN DIEGO (CBS) — A national group of journalists says the U.S. media should stop using the terms “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien” because only a court of law — not reporters — can determine who is in the country illegally.

The Diversity Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) says its goal is to “inform and sensitize” members of the American media about how “offensive” the commonly-used terms are to Latinos.

Claiming the language likely “originated with fiery, anti-immigrant groups along the U.S.-Mexico border, such as the Minutemen”, the group has embarked on a nationwide campaign to suggest the preferred phrasing of “undocumented worker”.

Diversity Committee member Leo Laurence argues that those who have entered the country without official approval but have not obtained citizenship should be called “undocumented workers” or “undocumented immigrants”.

“This is not about being politically correct,” Laurence says, but rather seeking to “minimize harm” when reporting — one of the major tenets of SPJ’s code of ethics acknowledged by many journalists around the nation.

The group asserts that citizens and non-citizens alike enjoy the protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing innocence of any crime until proven guilty in a court of law, contending that a judge is the only person qualified to declare any person or action “illegal”.

According to its most recent style guide, the Associated Press still appears to prefer “illegal immigrant” over “undocumented worker.”

The AP Stylebook created its entry on “illegal immigrant” in 2004, in response to renewed debate over border security and the enforcement of immigration laws after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,” AP’s deputy standards editor David Minthorn wrote in an e-mail.

“Together, the terms describe a person who resides in a country unlawfully by residency or citizenship requirements. Alternatives like undocumented worker, illegal alien or illegals lack precision or may have negative connotations. Illegal immigrant, on the other hand, is accurate and neutral for news stories.”

SPJ delegates say they will consider a full resolution at their upcoming 2011 national convention in Las Vegas.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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