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What’s in a name? AP shifts the discourse by eschewing the term “illegal immigrant”
- Yesterday the Associated Press made the bold and surprising announcement that the AP stylebook will no longer sanction the term “illegal immigrant.” According to the AP’s new standards, “‘illegal’ should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally, and not a person.”
- This announcement garnered swift responses — for instance, from David Weigel at Slate.com, who reflected on the role of activists in shifting discourse (including, above all, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas), and from New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan — who had asserted as late as October that the term is “clear and accurate.” Sullivan stuck to her guns even after interviewing veteran NYT journalist Julia Preston, who expressed dissatisfaction with Sullivan’s position.
- After yesterday’s AP announcement, however, Sullivan wrote that the NYT is also “reconsidering the term ‘illegal immigrant.‘” She’ll likely find support from her NYT colleague Lawrence Downes, one of the paper’s editorial page editors, who has written about his own often unsuccessful efforts to “keep trying to use ‘illegal immigrant’ dispassionately.”
- Months before Sullivan’s move to reconsider, linguistic anthropologist Jonathan Rosa of UMass Amherst, with the support of a wider groups of scholars along with the AAA Committee for Human Rights, published an online statement describing and, above all, deploring the use of the term. At the time, Rosa’s statement captured the attention of ABC news/Univision.
- The ABC/Univision piece also cites George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson’s useful 2006 paper on the framing of immigration, which lays bare the ideological foundations of U.S. public discourse — for instance, by observing that, “The problem is not being called the Illegal Employer Problem, and employers are not called ‘illegals.'”
- Here at AccessDenied, we have agonized long and hard over whether, how, and under what circumstances terms like “illegal” immigrant and migrant “illegality” ought to appear in writing. (See, for instance, this article and this commentary.)
- AccessDenied readers, what do you think? If you are a health researcher, health care provider, public health practitioner, activist, and/or migrant/immigrant yourself, what’s your perspective on the discursive shift that is apparently taking shape in the United States?
Prepared by Sarah Willen