The Associated Press, whose stylebook is used by lots of different publications, has announced that it will no longer use the term "illegal immigrant." This essentially accepts the argument that advocates for immigrants have been making for some time, namely that the fact that someone immigrated illegally doesn't make them an illegal person, any more than the fact that you got a speeding ticket means you should be labelled an "illegal driver," despite your violation of the law. Unsurprisingly, conservatives were contemptuous of the AP. On the right, however (and in the conservative media), even the term "illegal immigrants" is considered unduly generous, the preferred terms being "illegal aliens" or just "illegals."
The AP also doesn't like "undocumented immigrant," which is preferred by immigration activists, "because it is not precise. A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence." That seems kind of silly; if you refer to someone as an undocumented immigrant, it's pretty clear that the documents they lack don't include a Chuck E. Cheese Frequent Funster Card. In any case, the AP is eschewing all labels, so they advise writers, "Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?" Which is all well and good when you're talking about an individual, but what about when you're referring to these folks as a group? I suppose you could say "immigrants who entered the country illegally," which is a bit cumbersome, but not too terrible.
While I certainly don't like "illegal immigrant," this isn't a terminology disagreement with far-reaching implications, so if I were those conservatives, I wouldn't get my knickers in too much of a twist. We're not talking about the "death tax" or "enhanced interrogation techniques," terms devised with a direct intent to fool people about the implications of the policies in question. We're just talking about treating people with a little less contempt. Shouldn't be too hard to do.
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