(COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW) — As style manual changes go, it was big news. “Illegal immigrant,” a phrase long used for people living in the country without authorization, was no longer “sanctioned” in Associated Press copy, the wire service declared in April 2013. Its influential Stylebook was updated to read, in part:
Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant.
The change was part of a broader effort to avoid “labeling people,” said Kathleen Carroll, AP’s executive editor, but the move seemed clearly a concession to advocates for immigrants who argued it was offensive to describe a person or group of people as “illegal.”
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Within weeks, major newspapers like the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today followed AP’s lead and abandoned the phrase, and it seemed likely more would follow. The Stylebook “is the last word on journalistic practice, so it’s particularly important for the AP to set this standard,” Rinku Sen, publisher of the website Colorlines, which had coordinated a campaign to “Drop the I-Word,” said at the time. “This should put the debate to rest.” A columnist at the Los Angeles Times chimed in: “For U.S. reporters and editors, the term ‘illegal immigrant’ looks to be going the way of the eight-track tape.”