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Dehumanizes and Marginalizes': Illegal Immigrant Journalist on Quest to Ban 'Illegal Immigrant' From Associated Press, New York Times


"Politicizing an already political issue."

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Jose Antonio Vargas

The former Washington Post journalist who made headlines last year after outing himself as an illegal immigrant is on a mission to get media organizations to stop using the term "illegal immigrant," starting with the Associated Press and New York Times.

Jose Antonio Vargas told reporters at an online news association conference on Friday that journalists should instead use "undocumented" or explore other ways to describe someone's immigration status.

"Right now, my two main targets, and I say that politely, are going to be the New York Times and the Associated Press," Vargas said, according to ABC News. "The term dehumanizes and marginalizes the people it seeks to describe. Think of it this way, in what other context do we call someone illegal?"

Vargas said he plans to meet with representatives from the Associated Press in charge of the organization's influential stylebook, and said he has already begun having conversations with New York Times ombudsman Margaret Sullivan, whom he described as "very open," according to Politico.

In a Time magazine column on the same topic published Friday, Vargas said journalists who use "illegal" are "politicizing an already political issue." He noted that several news organizations, including the Miami Herald, Huffington Post and San Antonio News-Express have changed their policies in recent years to drop the term "illegal immigrant" in favor of "undocumented immigrant."

Vargas, who won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage in 2008, appeared on the cover of Time in June with 35 others under the headline "We are Americans*...*Just not legally."

Paul Colford, AP's director of media relations, told Politico in a statement that "illegal immigrant" was the organization's preferred term until last year.

"Though the term is in the AP Stylebook because it reflects a legal reality, we believe there are alternatives. AP reporters understand that it’s not the only way to refer to individuals in a host of different circumstances," Colford said. "In the case of a person brought here as a child without permission, the term can be misleading, since the person wasn’t a willing 'immigrant' at all. In such a case, AP reporters might simply state the situation: He doesn’t have legal permission to live in the United States, since his parents entered the country illegally (or without authorization)."

In addition to the AP and the Times, Vargas said his Define American organization will also encourage people around the country to report instances of print, radio and television news outlets using "illegal immigrant."

"The people who read and consume the news in their own local communities should be calling out these news agencies," Vargas told ABC. "It needs to be at that level."

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