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Monday, January 30, 2023


AP does its own immigration reform to mixed reviews

As the Senate moves toward introducing bipartisan immigration reform legislation this week, the nation turns its sights from the battle on marriage equality to illegal immigration.  While attitudes clash over the best way to approach reform, media outlets have already begun to change the way journalists write about it that is causing quite the controversy.

David Delgado / The Daily Cougar

David Delgado / The Daily Cougar

On April 2, the Associated Press dropped the dreaded ‘i word’ or, to be more specific, the term ‘illegal immigrant’ from its stylebook, arguably the most widely used guide by journalists. However, instead of receiving full-on praise the organization deserves for removing a stigmatizing label, they received some mixed reviews.

The news of the change broke post by AP blogger Paul Colford and explained by Kathleen Carroll, AP senior vice president and executive editor, that “illegal” labeled people and that labels are making their way out of the stylebook.

“(W)e had in other areas been ridding the Stylebook of labels,” Carroll said.

“The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was ‘diagnosed with schizophrenia’ instead of schizophrenic, for example. That discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to ‘illegal immigrant’ again. We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance.”

According to the new entry, “illegal” will only be used to refer to an action and not a person — “illegal immigration” is OK, “living in” or “entering a country illegally” or “without legal permission” are accepted variations, but “illegal immigrant” is right out. Also, people can’t be described as violating immigration laws without attribution. It’s not exactly tight writing, but the heart is in the right place.

Political science senior Jocelyn Bermudez agrees with AP’s decision as a positive step toward immigration reform.

“I do agree with them changing the terminology because at least it’s showing that it’s such an important issue that it’s trying to be reformed,” Bermudez said.

However, there is some backlash to be found. Fox News personality Greta Van Susteren questioned the move in her blog.

“The law is specific — whether you like the or not — about being in this country legally or illegally,” Susteren said.

“If you do not meet the terms of being here legally, you are here illegally, right? But apparently the AP has other ideas. Perhaps the AP would prefer describing someone as an immigrant (not illegal immigrant) who is illegally here or violating the law as a criminal? I think criminal sounds much worse.”

Others, like English senior Molly Hicks, find the move ridiculous exercise in political correctness.

“Making more words ‘politically incorrect’ is a very dumb thing to do, and it just makes people get offended over absolutely nothing. I think it’s stupid,” Hicks said.

Van Susteren does have a valid point: just because there is a terminology change doesn’t mean that the action is changed, and it seems like the AP is splitting hairs over the label.

French and interior architecture junior Babirye Nteza said the change in terminology does not change the issue at hand.

“I don’t agree with it only because I don’t think it’s going to make a difference, like what the actual policies are going to be like,” Nteza said.

“I feel like it is like changing the cover in order not to deal with the real issue.”

People like Van Susteren underestimate the full power of language. There are a few examples that we’ve seen in our recent history that either helped movements or aided the arguments they made.

Recently, an evolution has occurred regarding the marriage equality debate. Only a few years ago, the movement to allow the marriage of two people of the same sex was referred to as the “gay marriage movement.” Later, the reference changed then same-sex marriage as the term “gay” refers primarily to men and was rechristened as the “same-sex marriage movement.”

Still, that term seemed isolated, so it was recently rechristened the “marriage equality movement,” bringing “traditional marriage” under the umbrella that all marriages between two people are equal.

These small changes in our vernacular have deep impacts on society. The changes might seem minute and unimportant, but the reason they are is because they work. The words used affect how the issue is understood.

When talking about immigration, it is easy to call someone “illegal” because in a sense, they did do something illegal; however, it is a civil violation, like speeding, and not a criminal violation. There are real human faces and emotions behind this controversial issue, and while changing the term might seem irrelevant, they force people to frame the conversation in a different, and ultimately, a more respectful light.

Alex Caballero is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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