It might be awhile before you read this in the news again:
"An illegal immigrant was arrested for drunken driving last night ..."
"Police said the victim was an illegal immigrant who was living in the basement of a friend ..."
"The union representative said the factory management was resisting their efforts due to the large number of illegal immigrants currently on payroll ..."
"The A-student who won the award was born in the U.S. when his parents, who are illegal immigrants, relocated in..."
The influential Associated Press news service has decided that "illegal immigrant" will no longer be the description of choice in their mainstream media reporting. According to reports, the Associated Press was responding to consistent complaints by minority journalism organizations and others who have long considered the term dehumanizing.
In a statement, AP announced the move last week.
"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."
The move brought mixed reactions, including praise from groups like the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists along with derisive comments from some conservative media members who saw it as a case of political correctness gone amok.
Many newspapers, radio stations and TV channels regularly use AP reports to augment their reporting. Other big media organizations chimed in on the AP decision with their own style changes.
USA Today announced it would use "undocumented" instead of illegal in future stories. The New York Times' public editor said the newspaper was considering changes but would probably not go as far as AP in abolishing any use of the term.
As a longtime member of the black journalists' organization that has joined with other minority media organizations to help evolve the way certain groups are covered, I was glad to hear about the AP change.
It seems very reasonable to me but I'm aware plenty of people have no problem calling a human being or child a descriptive noun like "illegal immigrant" that reduces them to what has become a negative connotation.
There have been people living in America for centuries who didn't have official status, including those from Canada, the West Indies, Europe and any other place you can name.
But what most honest journalists will admit, when the term "illegal immigrant" gets used in the media, it's usually about people from Mexico who enter the country illegally through southern bordering states. Many have broken the law to get here but once established they become responsible members of the community with strong impact on the local economy. These are the people who have made immigration a political football, mainly because some have been here so long it really makes little sense to categorize them in such a way to suggest there's nothing American about them.
According to the journalism website Journal-Ism's, Kathleen Carroll, AP senior vice president and executive editor, wrote about the style change, explaining that it was the result of wide-ranging discussions over period of time.
Carroll said although "illegal immigrant" was the best choice at the time, the English language had continued to evolve.
"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."
The new guideline says, "Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission."
The bottom line for many who support the change is the way it allows media to report facts without playing into stereotypes and biases in today's modern reality.
After all, as it has been stated over and over by those who wanted to see the change, human beings are not illegal; actions are illegal.
It's good to see the people who decide what words we use have figured that out, too.
Eugene Kane is veteran Milwaukee journalist and nationally award winning columnist.
Kane writes about a variety of important issues in Milwaukee and society that impact residents of all backgrounds.