A newsroom memo sent out by the Los Angeles Times‘s Standards and Practices Committee announced Wednesday that the publication would be taking “a new approach,” updating it’s 1995 guidelines in using the term “illegal immigrant.”
“‘Illegal immigrants’ is overly broad and does not accurately apply in every situation,” the memo says. “The alternative suggested by the 1995 guidelines, undocumented immigrants,’ similarly falls short of our goal of precision. It is also untrue in many cases, as with immigrants who possess passports or other documentation but lack valid visas.”
While “illegal immigrant” has been scrapped by the LA Times, “illegal immigration” will still be used. The recommendation is for reporters to fully describe the way a person came into the U.S. Examples used in the memo:
–”Authorities said he crossed the border illegally.”
–”She entered the country to attend college but overstayed her student visa.”
–”He was brought here as a child by his parents, who entered the U.S. without a visa.”
The LA Times has been reconsidering using “illegal” immigrants for the last several months. In April, The New York Times advised its staffers to “consider alternatives” to “illegal immigrant,” though the term is not forbidden. The Associated Press‘s, which sets the standard for most of the country’s newspapers, took the lead in early April, scrapping the term from its Stylebook.
The full LA Times memo:
Immigration is one of the most contentious and compelling subjects of our time. In our coverage, we aim to report with authority and balance — to be fair, nuanced and precise. We know that language matters and that our word choices must likewise be fair, nuanced and precise.
The Times adopted its current style on immigration-related language in 1995, recommending the use of “illegal immigrants” or “undocumented immigrants” in lieu of “illegal aliens.” Those phrases have become highly politicized since then, prompting the Standards and Practices Committee to consider an update. The committee has been consulting with reporters and editors from across the newsroom since last fall, as well as meeting with advocates seeking an end to the media’s use of “illegal immigrant.” After hearing strong arguments for and against the current Times style, we concluded that it was time for a new approach.
“Illegal immigrants” is overly broad and does not accurately apply in every situation. The alternative suggested by the 1995 guidelines, “undocumented immigrants,” similarly falls short of our goal of precision. It is also untrue in many cases, as with immigrants who possess passports or other documentation but lack valid visas.
The Associated Press also reevaluated its usage of “illegal immigrant.” It now proscribes that phrase, among other changes, in its approach to immigration-related language.
Our revised guidelines, which expand upon the language in AP’s new listing for “illegal immigration,” advocate taking a careful, case-by-case approach to all stories. We include examples of how to implement the new style.
In covering both individuals and groups, the goal is to provide relevance and context and to avoid labels.
Use the term “illegal immigration” to describe the phenomenon of entering or residing in a country in violation of the law.
Avoid using “illegal immigrant” or “undocumented immigrant” to describe individuals except when necessary in direct quotations.
Other guidelines for usage:
Do not specify a person’s immigration status unless it is relevant to the story. Immigration laws are complex. Do not state as a fact that someone has violated the law without sufficient attribution.
Be specific whenever possible in describing an individual’s status:
- “Authorities said he crossed the border illegally.”
- “She entered the country to attend college but overstayed her student visa.”
- “He was brought here as a child by his parents, who entered the U.S. without a visa.”
This guidance applies to groups as well:
- “The federal government estimates that 11 million immigrants have entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas.”
Do not use “illegal alien,” “an illegal” or “illegals” except in rare cases in direct quotes; they should not be used in headlines or other display type.