Knight Center
Knight Center


Society of Professional Journalists pushes U.S. newsrooms to stop using "illegal immigrant" and "illegal alien"

At its annual conference, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) voted Tuesday, Sept. 27, to recommend that newsrooms across the United States end the use of the terms "illegal immigrant" and "illegal alien" in stories, reported MediaBistro.

The resolution approved by the 7,800-member organization says that "only the court system, not reporters and editors, can decide when a person has committed an illegal act," according to the Maynard Institute.

An opinion piece in Forbes applauded the news, saying, "Using objective language is the first step to thinking clearly about a subject, and SPJ’s resolution gives me hope that we’re moving toward a rational immigration debate."

Previously, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists voiced concern that the use of the terms "illegal immigrant" and "illegal alien" is dehumanizing, and that poor news coverage of Latinos is contributing to an anti-immigrant sentiment.

The AP Stylebook, the standard grammar and word-choice guide which many newsrooms across the country follow, recommends "illegal immigrant" as the preferred choice, but doesn't tell journalists what term to use, other than to say the term "illegals" should not be used.

The SPJ resolution comes on the heels of the Knight Center's 9th Austin Forum on Journalism in the Americas, which focused on "Media Coverage of Migration in the Americas." During the annual gathering, journalists from throughout the Western hemisphere called for more humanized, in-depth coverage of immigration that goes beyond stereotypes and cliches.

Earlier in September, reported that its analysis of newspaper archives had found that "since the September 11 attacks, there has been a steady increase in language that frames unauthorized immigrants as a criminal problem. References to “illegals,” “illegal immigrants” and their rhetorical variants now dominate the speech of both major political parties, as well as news media coverage of immigration."

In other SPJ business, the organization made a controversial move in its decision not to revive its Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. In January, the organization retired the award named in honor of the longtime White House correspondent following controversial comments she made about Israel that led to her forced retirement.

Other Related Headlines:
» New America Media ("Illegal Immigrant" or "Undocumented Worker"? What Ethnic Media Says About The Implications of Language)

1 comment

Ron wrote 6 years 28 weeks ago


I am US citizen and a journalist in the Philippines. Your statement "only the court system, not reporters and editors, can decide when a person has committed an illegal act," is totally wrong. There are laws now that declare it an illegal act to enter the US without the proper permission. If you perform an illegal act you can and should be charged with that commission.

I had to process many papers to be a LEGAL ALIEN in the Philippines. My Filipino wife had to likewise submit many documents in order to obtain a VISA in order to visit the US with me.

If a person violates the law, he committed an ILLEGAL act, whether or not he was arrested, charged, and convicted.

"illegal alien" is dehumanizing?" What's next; committing crime is OK if you do it in an honorable way?

What's wrong with the AP Stylebook; too dehumanizing? Wow.... what's next?


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