Why was the Associated Press's 2004 judgment that the term illegal immigrant is "accurate and neutral" so important? (The AP has since changed its policy on the use of this term.)
In 2004, following growing public discussion about border security and immigration laws, The Associated Press, or AP for short, created an entry in the AP Stylebook on the subject and deemed the term "illegal immigrant" acceptable.
The term "illegal immigrant" describes someone who lives in a nation without first fulfilling the nation’s citizenship requirements and therefore does not have documentation, such as a passport, visa, or other documents, that show the person’s country of residence. There are many other terms that had been in use at the time, including undocumented worker, illegal alien, or illegal. However, the AP decided that many of those terms either were not sufficiently precise or might have had negative connotations.
Conversely, according to the San Francisco Examiner, the AP determined that the use of the term "illegal immigrant" accurately portrayed the status of the person being described and did so in a way that was both “accurate and neutral” for news stories.
The reason the AP Stylebook entry was so important is because of the importance that audiences in a variety of silos place on the AP and the AP Stylebook. It is a respected encyclopedia of proscribed grammar and language usage that is used by professionals in a wide variety of sectors. It is therefore a go-to source on what is or is not acceptable in terms of language.
In 2013, the Associated Press changed its policy and agreed not to use the word “illegal” to describe people who live in a nation without the proper documentation. Respected news outlets took notice. Moreover, subsequently and in response to current trends political trends and portrayals in the media, activists approached the New York Times with a petition that had been signed by about 70,000 people in protest over the term “illegal immigrant” in news stories.
Many people believe that the use of the word “illegal” to describe someone demeans and dehumanizes them.
Activists who support the cessation of the use of the term specifically feel that by labeling a person as an "illegal immigrant" or "illegal," it equates to calling the individual—instead of referring to the specific actions of that individual—unlawful. By using the term in journalism or other public print and verbal discussion, many people believe that it promotes divisiveness.
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