Several organizations have called on the New York Times to drop the term “illegal immigrant.” The New York Times put out a statement today explaining that while they did not drop the term, they have come up “with more detailed and nuanced stylebook guidelines,” according to Philip B. Corbett, the New York Times associate managing editor for standards.
A new stylebook entry sent via e-mail to NBC Latino states that reporters can still use the term “illegal immigrant,” but to “be aware that in the debate over immigration, some people view it as loaded or offensive. The stylebook urges its writers to consider alternatives when appropriate to explain a person’s specific circumstances, such as “who crossed the border illegally,” or “who is not authorized to work in this country,” according to the entry.
The new stylebook also states, “Do not use illegal as a noun, and avoid the sinister-sounding alien.” The term unauthorized is an acceptable description, according to the newspaper, and undocumented is described as “the term preferred by immigrants and their advocates, but has the flavor of euphemism and should be used with caution outside quotations.”
The e-mail from the New York Times came shortly after a group representing several organizations went to the Times headquarters in New York City’s midtown with a delivery — over 70,000 signatures, according to the group, petitioning the newspaper to stop using the term “illegal immigrant.”
“A term like this is degrading, and it does not need to be used, since it does not adequately characterize individuals,” says Fernando Chavez, one of the group’s members and son of famed civil rights leader Cesar Chavez.
“I think this term has become a slur,” says Gabriela Garcia, of the group Presente.org, an organization advocating for immigrant rights and a more active political voice for Hispanics. “It’s really the defining term used by anti-immigrant groups to categorize people as inherently being illegal, and it leads to dehumanizing people,” Garcia adds.
Alex Nogales, of the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), says that originally, “this was not a fight we wanted to get into.” What changed his group’s mind, explains Nogales, was a Latino Decisions September 2012 poll which found that the term “illegal immigrant” had a measurable negative effect of non-Latinos‘ views of Latinos. Fifty-nine percent of non-Latinos polled offered a “cold” rating toward the term “illegal alien,” compared to 49 percent for “undocumented.”
Moreover, almost one out of three non-Latinos polled thought that the majority of Hispanics were undocumented.
“Crimes against Latinos have gone up, and that’s largely because of hate speech,” says Nogales. “But it’s also loaded words like this (illegal immigrant) which carry a meaning above and beyond what another word would carry,” he added.
In the e-mail statement, the New York Times’ Corbett said, “we’re well aware of the debate over these terms, and we understand the sensitivity of this issue for many people. Our goal, on this and every topic, is to be as accurate, clear and impartial as possible in our reporting, including in the language we use.”
Jose Antonio Vargas, the Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist and writer — who happens to be undocumented — was with the group who went to the New York Times, and tweeted a lukewarm response to the newspaper’s decision.
— Jose Antonio Vargas (@joseiswriting) April 23, 2013