Great news from the Los Angeles Times. One month after the Associated Press and USA Today announced that they will no longer describe undocumented immigrants as “illegal”, the fourth most widely distributed paper in the country says that it will do the same.
Immigration is one of the most contentious and compelling subjects of our time. In our coverage, we aim to report with authority and balance — to be fair, nuanced and precise. We know that language matters and that our word choices must likewise be fair, nuanced and precise.
The Times adopted its current style on immigration-related language in 1995, recommending the use of “illegal immigrants” or “undocumented immigrants” in lieu of “illegal aliens.” Those phrases have become highly politicized since then, prompting the Standards and Practices Committee to consider an update. The committee has been consulting with reporters and editors from across the newsroom since last fall, as well as meeting with advocates seeking an end to the media’s use of “illegal immigrant.” After hearing strong arguments for and against the current Times style, we concluded that it was time for a new approach.
“Illegal immigrants” is overly broad and does not accurately apply in every situation. The alternative suggested by the 1995 guidelines, “undocumented immigrants,” similarly falls short of our goal of precision. It is also untrue in many cases, as with immigrants who possess passports or other documentation but lack valid visas.
The announcement is another major victory for the Drop the I-Word campaign, which Colorlines.com launched in 2010. The campaign is now calling on the New York Times to stop referring to undocumented immigrants as “illegal”, and recently delivered a petition to the New York Times’ doorstep with 70,000 signatures.