The ‘Illegal’ Index: Which News Organizations Still Use the Term ‘Illegal Immigrant’?

Felix Salmon, writing for Fusion back in November:

This might well be the only article you ever read on Fusion that contains the phrase “illegal immigrant.” If necessary, we’ll quote individuals who use the offensive term. But we’ll never use it ourselves to describe people living and working in the United States without every necessary bureaucratic authorization.

The reason is simple: People who speed aren’t “illegal drivers,” nor are people who fall behind on their taxes “illegal filers.” Even soldiers fighting against the United States without belonging to a formal national army are generally referred to as “unlawful” rather than “illegal” combatants. The use of the term “illegal” to refer to a person is a usage which is confined to exactly one group of people: Migrants. As a result, “illegal,” when used as a noun, always means immigrants — people whose only crime is the victimless pursuit of liberty and prosperity.

Jeffrey Toobin, writing for The New Yorker (which has no policy on the term):

Salmon, and most others who abjure “illegal” immigrant, prefer to use the adjective “undocumented,” which I also used several times in my article. The term is clearly accurate, but also incomplete. The problem of the family in my piece is not simply that it lacks a document, like an American who, say, is kept from voting because he or she lacks a driver’s license or other photo I.D. The problem is that the law currently forbids the family from living in the United States. The family is not authorized to be here, which is different, I think, from simply needing a piece of paper. […]

An erudite friend, Michael O’Hare, a professor of public policy at Berkeley, pointed out that there are apt terms in French — sans papiers, and situation irrégulière — but I write in English. If we were being technical, it may be more accurate to describe these individuals’ status as “unauthorized” rather than undocumented or illegal. In the end, though, I think my third category is dispositive. There does seem to be a consensus against the use of the term by the people most affected by it, who happen to be a vulnerable minority seeking a better life, and that’s good enough for me. Personally, I’m dropping the use of the term “illegal immigrant.”

Wednesday, 5 August 2015