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It's no fun being a person who has entered a country without legal permission

April 5, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
The AP has rendered a decision that its Stylebook, the bible of grammar and word usage for us media types, will no longer recognize the combination of terms “illegal immigrant” as a stand-alone label” Instead, people should be termed people who have entered a country without legal permission, or illegally.

Quoting the Stylebook change here:

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 inor 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...”

OK, it’s editors saying reporters have more work to do, but why now?

The AP says no writer following the AP stylebook should use the label without attribution, meaning Senator A. still is free to talk about “illegal immigrants” though surely he (she, I must be correct and precise here) will someday be excoriated for political incorrrectness in using the term.

The AP says it’s all part of the drive to keep the language from being used to label people.

It’s good, for instance, that we no longer refer to people with disabilities as “disabled” or “handicapped.” And that makes sense. My work in the gym during the past 19 months saw many people who once would have been labeled “handicapped” providing an inspiration while performing workouts that would have left me half dead.

But this one seems more aimed at politics, no matter the linguistic argument. I really don’t know why a person’s status is not legal, only that they’re not legally in the U.S. -- hence “illegal” -- and they had to get here somehow -- hence “immigration.” I could then start defining the basis of the illegality, couldn’t I?

Is a blind person blind on first reference, or optically challenged due to a sight-impairing disease at birth? Would make one hell of a long lead on a story, wouldn’t it?

If this is the way of the future, when the next person is convicted/accused/found to possess a zillion illegal Oxycontin, will we have to decide if there was once a prescription for someone somewhere? We’re not asking to use the term “drug-pickled zombie” instead of describing them as a drug addict.

Or how about the guy caught with his hands in the cash register drawer. We avoid calling him a “robber” or “thief,” without using the term “alleged” until convicted in court. That’s precise. O.J. Simpson was found not guilty back in the 1990s, and though that term pissed off a bunch of folks, it was legally correct. I have no idea if he was innocent or not, really.The jury said he wasn’t guilty, and the rest is the stuff of arguments and books and news stories to this day.

Perhaps its time for the follks at the Ministry of Truth who control our language to call back to 1984 and get hold of Winston Smith. Or at the very least call a few folks in Arizona and Texas and ask if they care to know the status of the people illegally crossing their property inside the American border at night, on their way to undocumented work somewhere.


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