Don't Describe Illegal Immigrants As "Illegals"

In another instance of political correctness gone haywire, the Society of Professional Journalists will embark on a yearlong campaign to persuade journalists to not refer to illegal immigrants as “illegals,” trying to influence the political debate in favor of policies, especially those concerning granting amnesty to illegal aliens, the organization implicitly supports.

According to a posting by committee member Leo Laurence that has been blogged about and discussed in recent weeks, “SPJ’s Diversity Committee met during the 2010 convention in Las Vegas and decided to engage in a yearlong educational campaign designed to inform and sensitize journalists as to the best language to use
when writing and reporting on undocumented immigrants.”

Laurence wrote that “one of the most basic of our constitutional rights is that everyone (including noncitizens) is innocent of any crime until proven guilty in a court of law. . . . The presumption of innocence is an ancient tenet of criminal law. That legal doctrine is basic to our common-law system of jurisprudence.” Therefore, in Laurence’s opinion, illegal immigrants should not be referred to as “illegals” until they are presumably proven to officially be in the country illegally by a court of law.

Yet, as Alana Goodman of the Culture and Media Institute astutely notes, even though “drunk drivers are also innocent until convicted in a court of law,” journalism groups are not calling for editors to not write headlines such as “police cracking down on drunk drivers.”

It is worth nothing that the Associated Press style guide says that “illegal immigrant” is the proper way to refer to those who are in the country illegally.

In recent write-ups on the failure of The Dream Act, mainstream organizations, for the most part, did use  the term “illegal immigrant” instead of “undocumented worker,” which the SPJ will suggest journalists adopt throughout the year.

Here is an excerpt from The Washington Post‘s account of The Dream Act’s defeat: “Deporting almost 800,000 illegal immigrants might antagonize some Democrats and Latino voters, Obama’s skeptical supporters said the president told them, but stepped-up enforcement was the only way to buy credibility with Republicans and generate bipartisan support for an overhaul of the nation’s
immigration laws.”
And The New York Times, which has been very generous towards and supportive of pro-amnesty groups, also used the term “illegal immigrant” in its story: “The Senate on Saturday blocked a bill that would have created a path to citizenship for
certain young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children, completed two years of college or military service and met other requirements, including passing a criminal background check.”

On the other hand, The Los Angeles Times, described The Dream Act’s failure by repeatedly referring to illegal immigrants as undocumented: “Devastated by the Senate’s failure last week to grant them a path to citizenship, undocumented young people throughout California are vowing renewed activism to win legal immigration status if they attend college or serve in the military.

“With the highest number of undocumented young people in the nation, California is already the epicenter for student advocacy on the issue and for legal breakthroughs granting them in-state tuition.”

It will be interesting in the next year to continue to monitor how journalists in the mainstream media refer to “illegal immigrants” in their stories and whether they are unduly influenced by organizations such as the SPJ that try to impose their politically correct agendas on others.