We've reported via Colorlines.com about how the i-word is harmful from many angles and reasons. This is the letter we sent to Ms. Sullivan today:
Dear Ms. Sullivan,
you for asking The New York Times readers for opinions about the term "illegal
immigrant." The Applied Research Center launched the Drop the I-Word campaign
in September 2010 and we have since been pushing for media to retire describing
people as "illegal" in any form. There are compelling reasons to get rid of the
i-word based on journalistic standards alone. Calling someone an "illegal
immigrant" is 1) legally inaccurate and misleading 2) politically loaded and
popularized by anti-immigrant strategists and 3) experienced as racially biased
and dehumanizing by the people it is used to describe. The current debate
presents an opportunity for journalists to be responsible to their readers by
dropping this coded language.
i-word is on its way out. Many journalists are making way for culturally
competent, respectful coverage on immigration. The Miami Herald, The San
Antonio Express-News, Fox News Latino, ABC News and The Huffington Post have
all dropped the i-word. We hope the New York Times will be next. The
7,800-member Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) passed a resolution in
2011 to discontinue use of the term "illegal alien" based on the idea that
describing someone as "illegal" is unconstitutional. They recommended that
members re-evaluate the implications of the use of "illegal immigrant."
Our campaign has also been endorsed by the national UNITY alliance of
over 10,000 members comprised of the Asian American Journalists Association,
National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Native American Journalists
Association and most recently, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists
in an important story about child migrants, Ms. Preston described six-year-old
Juan David Gonzalez, as an "illegal border-crosser." Ms. Preston argues that
the term applies in some instances, but a court has never found anyone to be
"illegal" in the history of immigration court. Neither "illegal alien" nor
"Illegal immigrant" are terms defined by law. Only when people are caught
entering the country without inspection and are then prosecuted, does the
possibility even exist for them to be charged with a misdemeanor. People who
have entered and are present in the country without papers are held to civil
code. Still, whenever someone's actions are in violation of the law, that does
not make a person's entire existence "illegal." We know she was convicted of a
crime and still we don't call Martha Stewart an "illegal businesswoman."
Firearms can be "illegal." Contraband can be "illegal." A person cannot be
described as such.
matter. A study released in August by the Center for American Progress, "How
Today's Immigration Enforcement Policies Impact Children, Families, and
Communities" showed that children are beginning "to view immigration as
equivalent to illegal." When a researcher in the study asked a child, Andrea,
if she knew the meaning of "immigrant," she said, "Yeah, it is when someone is
illegal in this country, and police-ICE come to look for them to send them back
to their country." Biased language creates bias in the minds of children and
media consumers of all ages. The National Hispanic Media Council's report, The
Impact of Media Stereotypes on Opinions and Attitudes Towards Latinos, revealed
that non-Latinos, no matter what the media format, think that Latinos and
"illegal immigrants" are one and the same.
term is only achieving dehumanization, confusion and creating a bias largely
against Latinos. The i-word does not bring precision or clarity to the
immigration debate, but functions only to taint all immigrants with criminality
by making them "illegal." Employers, corporations and governments are not being
conflated with criminality and illegality - only migrants.
are accurate terms available to explain a person's migratory status or
experience, such as "unauthorized," "aspiring citizen" "entered without
inspection," etc. The United Nation's Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination (CERD) uses "undocumented migrants," "unauthorized migrants" or
"irregular migrants." Journalists have other terms available to them. The
i-word is inaccurate, politically charged and experienced as racially charged.
It's time for the New York Times to Drop the I-Word.
Mónica Novoa, Drop the I-Word campaign coordinator
A petition has started on SignOn.com from Helen Chavez, the widow of Cesar Chavez, urging the New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson to Drop the I-Word. We support the petition and urge everyone to sign on!