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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.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.)

  • TheDude

    Well, this just proves the liberal bias of the media. When did this nation become so afraid to call things what they ARE? Before too long they will protest that being called a “Mexican” is offensive too.

  • Alert

    Who are journalists to decide what is constitutional and what is not?

  • ginny25

    IfI entered Mexico or any other country illegally they would refer to me as an illegal. Why does entering the USA this way suddenly become politically incorrect? Just another prime example of the liberal media staying in bed with the activists.

  • notlovinLA

    This is one of the sorriest things I’ve read in the news lately. Are you kidding me?! It’s politically incorrect to call something exactly what it is?! ginny25 is right. If I entered Mexico illegally, wouldn’t that make me an ILLEGAL? We are catering FAR too much to the whacked out demands of peoples and cultures who have NO RIGHT to make such demands! In the end, WE LEGAL CITIZENS are the idiots for allowing them to do it and for voting in people who care more about ILLEGAL ALIENS than they do about their own people! A duck is a duck is a duck is a duck. An illegal alien is an illegal alien is an illegal alien is an illegal alien. PERIOD!!!!

  • Richard in Castaic

    Suddenly journalists want to be accurate in their reporting????

  • Joe Dionne

    A rose by any other name….

  • socal

    If the shoe fits…. In Mexico, Canada, and the US of A illegal is illegal. How about non-citizen, no-rights personage.

  • Robert Ramirez

    What’s “offensive” has been the left’s continuous misuse of the whole immigrant word in the first place. We love immigrants in this country. If you’ve ever known or seen someone who has gone through the process of gaining citizenship, well frankly, it just makes you feel proud to see it happen. So please just STOP trying to blur the line between what’s LEGAL and what ISN’T. Please don’t sacrifice CLARITY because you MIGHT offend someone. If that became the norm, it would never EVER end. Get Over It.

  • BobO

    To clarify, we love immigrants who strive to
    assimilate into American society by
    education. Learn the English language, abide by our laws,

  • Fred


  • Bradley J. Fikes

    Neither SPJ nor its Diversity Committee is calling for banning of the term “illegal immigrant.” A clarification is now posted with the article:

    CLARIFICATION: The following article is an opinion piece and does not reflect the views of SPJ, its membership or its Diversity Committee. The committee itself has taken no official initiative on the use of the phrase “illegal immigrant.”

    I am a member of the SPJ board in San Diego.

  • wmccarns

    This is Political Correctness idiotcy to the extreme, but the typical liberal approach, if you can’t baffle them with non-sense, baffle them with B.S..

  • tx51210

    Brought to us by “The Associated Socialist Press Against America”

  • LASunsett

    We don’t need a court to define this for us, all we need is a dictionary.



    1. forbidden by law or statute.
    2.contrary to or forbidden by official rules, regulations, etc.: The referee ruled that it was an illegal forward pass.

    3. Informal . illegal alien.

    Seems clear to me.

  • Roy Johnston

    I can work beside anyone who is LEGALLY in this country. If you are in this country illegally you have no rights!!!!!!! But at this point I would be better off giving up my citizenship and becoming an illegal immigrant. They have more rights than I do and I am a LEGAL citizen.

  • Leilani

    In Hawaii, the brown locals cheered when ICE made raids, arrested “Mexicans” and deported them.
    Does the propaganda arm of the Communist Party prefer we call them illegals or just plain “Mexicans”. :)

  • Jim Kelly

    If you do not pay all your taxes you are not a felon until convicted. Shoule they be called thieves, defrauders, or thieves prior to conviction? Once convicted it is another story but before the so-called Patriot Act we were innocent until proven guilty by a jury of our peers. At that point teh allegation is determoned to be a conviction. Prior to that it is an alegation. /the article dos not mentions the Constitution… only hte bannner headline which seem disingenuos of the media distorting a message

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