Huge media organization denounces use of 'illegal immigrant'

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) There are no more "illegal immigrants" in the United States, at least according to The Associated Press.

But, that's just semantics, not a fundamental population shift. The estimated 11.1 million people who entered the country illegally are still around.

The AP Stylebook, however, is scrapping the term "illegal immigrant." The Stylebook, the most-widely used reference for American journalists, will be updated immediately online and in the next print edition, due this spring.

"The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term 'illegal immigrant' or the use of 'illegal' to describe a person," AP's Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll wrote in a blog post Tuesday. "Instead, it tells users that 'illegal' should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally."

Immigrant-rights advocates applauded the AP's decision.

"The Associated Press got this right, no human being is illegal," The Washington Post reported journalist-turned-activist Jose Antonio Vargas as saying Tuesday. "Now it's time for other news outlets to follow the AP's lead and end it for good."

Kern County-based Cesar Chavez Foundation and United Farm Workers of America also took at least partial credit for the AP's change, citing an online petition started late last year by Cesar Chavez's 85-year-old widow, Helen Chavez.

"Back in 1962, farm workers were treated as though we were agricultural tools. One grower called us 'rented slaves.' Working in the fields, I remember we were called 'wetbacks,' 'dirty Mexicans' and worse. It was common then in parts of our country for African Americans to also be degraded by those who called them the 'N' word or used stereotypes because of their skin color or who they were," Helen Chavez wrote in the petition, which was actually an appeal to The New York Times to adopt the word "undocumented" instead of "illegal" when referring to farmworkers and other Latinos.

"Why should we tolerate farm workers and other Latinos being treated this way? Some day not long from now people will look back and ask, 'How could people call other people names like illegal?'" Chevez continued in the petition.

The AP didn't give Chavez or anyone else credit for prompting the Stylebook change. Instead, Carroll said the move was made with the "always-evolving English language" in mind, amid a wide-ranging effort to rid the Stylebook of labels on people.

"The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels," the AP executive wrote in Tuesday's blog post. "Saying someone was 'diagnosed with schizophrenia' instead of schizophrenic, for example."

While some immigrant-rights advocates championed the term "undocumented" over "illegal," the AP asserted that "undocumented" was never accurate.

"A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence," the AP executive wrote.

The new Stylebook entry reads in part:

Illegal immigration - Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. 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. Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegals or undocumented.