AP says there are no more ‘illegal immigrants’ in the U.S.

But Doug and others who’ve been yearning for this day shouldn’t get overexcited. AP says we still have an “illegal immigration” problem.

It’s a matter of style.

Most news organizations in this country follow The Associated Press Stylebook quite religiously. Except for a few local exceptions here and there, so did every paper I ever worked at.

And AP style just changed. Those who follow the guide are no longer to call anyone an “illegal immigrant,” or refer to people as “illegals.”

Romenesko quotes from the statement today from AP explaining the change:

The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term “illegal immigrant” or the use of “illegal” to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that “illegal” should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally…

The discussions on this topic have been wide-ranging and include many people from many walks of life. (Earlier, they led us to reject descriptions such as “undocumented,” despite ardent support from some quarters, because it is not precise. A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence.)…

… we had in other areas been ridding the Stylebook of labels. The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of schizophrenic, for example.

And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to “illegal immigrant” again.

We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance.

So we have….

Here’s the way the entry in the Stylebook reads now:

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.

Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.

Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.

There’s a certain logic to this, but I think the AP is going about a step too far. I can see not describing humans as “illegals.” It’s lazy, and unless a person has been declared an outlaw in the full meaning of the term (is that even possible in today’s legal system), the person himself is not illegal.

But by doing away with “illegal immigrant,” AP is eliminating a perfectly clear and accurate way of describing one aspect of a person. I doubt the service would balk at “recent immigrant,” or any other accurate modifier used with the word “immigrant.” “Illegal immigrant” is a quick, accurate way to describe a characteristic of an individual that is important to the story (else it wouldn’t be mentioned at all). I see no reason to inconvenience thousands of writers and millions of readers by forcing them into less direct ways of communicating the same concept.

48 thoughts on “AP says there are no more ‘illegal immigrants’ in the U.S.

  1. Bryan Caskey

    If the word “illegal” only applies to actions, then a gun can never be illegal, nor can drugs. Or any other noun.

    Top 5 suggestions on what to replace “illegal aliens” with:

    1. Uninvited Guests
    2. Country Crashers
    3. Citizenship Challenged
    4. Reconquistadores
    5. Criminal Invaders

    1. Silence

      Bryan – Those are all good. My favorite would be “Reconquistadores”, followed closely by “Country Crashers”!

    2. Silence

      “Undocumented Democrat” – Jay Leno
      I wish I’d thought of that one, it’s a winner.

  2. Karen McLeod

    When a description, or designation becomes too often used perjoratively, we (the word police?) change the designation. For example, idiot, imbecile, and moron were at one time medical, descriptive levels of mental retardation. Needless to say, one does not use those terms anymore to describe a person who is diagnosed as intellectually challenged. Unfortunately, over time, the new designation takes on the perjorative associations. Then we invent new designations.

    1. Silence

      I don’t think we say “intellectually challenged” anymore, do we? I think the appropriate term is “developmentally delayed.”
      We don’t even say that someone is “Autistic” or “Aspy”. Nowadays, people are “Soemwhere on the autism spectrum.”

    2. Bart

      “For example, idiot, imbecile, and moron were at one time medical, descriptive levels of mental retardation. Needless to say, one does not use those terms anymore to describe a person who is diagnosed as intellectually challenged.”…Karen

      I think someone forgot to inform bud when it comes to his unhinged hatred of Republicans and conservatives, especially GWB. The words you listed seem to be his favorite when he posts a comment about them. In his world, they are indeed “intellectually challenged”.

  3. Doug Ross

    They are immigrants who enter and remain in the country illegally. While here, many of them continue to commit illegal acts. I’m fine with “criminals” for shorthand sake.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      They are not criminals before they are adjudicated as such, and the offenses are usually civil, not criminal. A parking violator is not a criminal, for example.

  4. Doug Ross

    Well, now we know why Lindsey Graham is so immigrant friendly. He wants to help out his rich donors so they can find the cheapest labor to work at their golf club.


    Senator Graham claims ““They got 9 [American] applicants for these jobs,” Graham said. “Three of them failed the drug test. They ran out of visas … I had to go to beg the Department of Labor to give them a waiver so they could get people from Jamaica to come in here and service the PGA.”

    According to comments I saw on the report, people applied for the same jobs but expected to be paid $8.50 an hour but the golf course refused to pay that “high” salary ($340 a week before taxes). So Senator Graham took time out of his busy Meet The Press schedule to push through visas for Jamaicans to come in and do the work Americans cannot and will not do (serve food).

    He’s a bought and paid for poseur of the highest order.

    1. Doug Ross

      So there were no able bodied Americans available to do the same jobs? There was some special skill that required the government to rush visa through?

      The fact that the club owners are large donors to Graham had NOTHING to do with it.

      1. Barry

        I am sure there are “able bodied” Americans available somewhere. Sadly, most of them aren’t willing to do such jobs – or aren’t interested.

    2. Steven Davis II

      I’ve worked on a golf course, I’d think there would be at least a few welfare recipients who could do the job. Wait, that job requires waking up before noon… nevermind.

      1. Barry

        Why pay more when there are plenty of people willing to do the job for a reasonable amount of money?

        Why should a company pay well above the market rate for a job just because a lot of folks aren’t willing to wake up before 10am to do the job?

  5. Doug Ross

    It is kind of nostalgic though to see a big plantation bring in hundreds of black people to do manual labor jobs for rich Southern whites. I wonder if Lindsey made the applicants show their teeth to their new Massas?

    1. Steven Davis II

      Did you see the interview with the peach farmer the other night? He needs immigrant workers because he can’t find “American” workers who last more than 2-3 days before quitting. He’s paying the migrant workers $10/hr. + housing + round-trip transportation to Mexico. It’s easier to sit on the front porch and wait for the mailman to deliver a welfare check than it is to actually get up and work for a living. Why work when the government will support you?

      Here’s the link:

  6. Doug Ross

    “In 2012, South Carolina was home to 337,000 unemployed low-skill workers, according to a study by the Center for Immigration Studies, a research organization that advocates reduced immigration.

    That’s roughly 1,982 unemployed South Carolinians for every job awarded to the country’s club’s Jamaicans.”

    I’d like to see the facts on how these jobs were posted and the process used to screen candidates.

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    Doug, maybe you can explain this to me…

    So now you have a problem with workers coming into the country LEGALLY to work?

    I thought the problem with all those Mexicans being here was that they weren’t here legally. That’s not the case with the Jamaicans, right?

    1. Doug Ross

      This isn’t an immigration issue. It’s a political kickback issue. Senator Graham went out of his way to fast track visas for a group of people specifically at the request of one of his large donors. The jobs those people were filling were apparently something that no able bodied South Carolinian could do.

      The whole process smells.. but when Lindsey’s involved, all you smell is violets and daffodils.

      I’d like to see the the job postings and the application details. That’s what an unbiased person would consider when looking at this.

      1. Barry

        “The jobs those people were filling were apparently something that no able bodied South Carolinian could do. ”


        I fixed it

        “would do”

  8. Brad Warthen Post author

    Immigration is one of those fascinating issues, like drones, that unites folks from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

    There has always been significant opposition to all those immigrants being here out on the left — except those folks make no bones about it. Their problem isn’t that they’re here illegally, but that they’re here, period, working for low wages. Folks on that end of the spectrum want to keep them out so that employers will be forced to pay higher wages to Americans.

    Interesting how it plays out.

    1. Doug Ross

      Wrong. I am against fast tracking visas for a political donor to bring in workers at the lowest pay rates.
      Bringing in people from ANYWHERE legally or illegally into a state with a high unemployment level of unskilled American workers is wrong. We don’t need more unskilled workers. We have an abundance of them.

      1. Barry

        There is nothing wrong with it at all.

        If those employers could get able bodied South Carolina citizens to take the jobs, that could pass the drug tests, that were willing to do the job at the prevailing market rate in the area- then you’d have a point.

  9. Bryan Caskey

    I kind of understand Doug’s point here. (I think.) If I understand correctly, Doug is upset that a particular employer had enough political “pull” to get a waiver pushed through to allow immigrants in who will work for less than what the locals will work for.

    Accordingly, the free market was altered by the political process. Specifically, an employer and perspective employees could not reach a price at which they would agree. Rather than raise the offered wage price, the employer imported employees (via political muscle) who were willing to work for the offered price.

    Apparently it cost the employer less to use the political system than it did to raise their offered wage. I don’t blame the employer in this instance, and I don’t think Doug really is either. They’re just doing what they can to keep their costs down.

    It’s the political system that allows this to occur that is to blame. The employer is happy, and guess who’s getting a nice contribution to their re-election campaign?

    Forget it Doug, it’s Chinatown.

    1. Doug Ross

      Exactly, Brian. It’s not hard to connect the dots between Lindsey Graham’s phony concern for immigrants and his actual desire to assist people who contribute large sums of money to get the cheapest labor possible.

    2. Barry

      or- the employer’s experience is that the workers that they bring in are

      1) better qualified
      2) easier to manage
      3) cause less problems
      4) are more dependable
      5) worth the effort

  10. Juan Caruso

    I prefer “U.S. persons” when applicable.

    Last year, the online AP Stylebook had belatedly noted, “-phobia,” “an irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness,” should not be used “in political or social contexts,” including “homophobia” and “Islamophobia.”

    But, obscenely overdue in my judgement, the stylebook only nixed “Ethnic Cleansing” the year before. “Ethnic cleansingis a euphemism for pretty violent activities, a phobia is a psychiatric or medical term for a severe mental disorder. Those terms have been used quite a bit in the past, and we don’t feel that’s quite accurate,” said AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn.

    No kidding.

    1. Doug Ross

      I never did understand the term “homophobic”. I don’t think there is any fear involved in anti-gay rhetoric.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yeah, that’s always seemed a little off to me, too.

        But I think what’s happened is that the -phobe ending has come to mean the opposite of -phile. Since -phile indicates love or an affinity for something, -phobia has sort of expanded to mean hatred or at least aversion, going beyond its original meaning of fear, or its clinical meaning of an irrational fear.

        But hey, it’s all Greek to me…

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          The reasoning is, and it has validity, that men who “hate” gays are projecting their fear of being gay or being thought gay. Why the popular taunts using derogatory terms for homosexuality, if this isn’t at least often the case.

          1. Steven Davis II

            Would your husband go up and french kiss another man if he was open to it? If not is your husband fearful of becoming gay?

          2. Barry

            Kids in middle school use those terms to make fun of other people – it sure isn’t because they “fear” that they are actually gay.

            This is not new. Been going on a long, long time.

            I know few men that “hate gays.” Most men I know hate the idea of what gay people do.

    1. Mab

      The AP would have never made this history-changing addendum to our lexicon had the American Military not sanctioned it from the front end and the back.

      The American Military created the demon — Muslims — and now they have defanged it. Great show, old chaps!

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I’m not sure I follow all of that, Mab. But I’ll point out that “Muslim” and “Islamist” don’t even come close to meaning the same thing.

        1. Mab

          Amen, Brad. I always figured you were ‘one of us’.

          P.S. Here, on the 11th day of counting the omer — I just want to find a way to apologize to one I have also demonized unfairly: Donnie Myers. He’s not the devil, yes? Amen and Amen.

Comments are closed.