How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Highlights from today's AirTalk: Illegal, undocumented, or unauthorized?

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A student activist's t-shirt, December 2010

Today's AirTalk with Larry Mantle on KPCC took on the debate (here's the audio) over what to call immigrants who live and work in the United States without permission. I provided some background while Larry fielded calls from listeners with their take on whether the correct term should be "illegal," "undocumented," or "unauthorized."

It's a debate that has existed in newsrooms for years, but has heated up recently. The Associated Press continues to use "illegal immigrant," clarifying earlier this month in its updated stylebook that while the AP doesn't condone the use of “illegal aliens,” “illegals” or “an illegal,” neither does it sanction the use of ”undocumented.”

The AP Stylebook is used as a guide by most mainstream media. But professional organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists have taken a position on the terms, eschewing "illegal" in favor of "undocumented." And the social-justice advocacy magazine ColorLines, which last year launched a "Drop the I-Word" campaign aimed at media, recently urged readers to contact the AP and suggest that "illegal immigrant" be dropped for the 2012 edition of the stylebook.

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The 'illegal' vs. 'undocumented' debate - what should it be?

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A student activist's t-shirt, December 2010

The debate over the use of "illegal" in the media as a way to refer to immigrants living and working in the United States without legal authorization continues, most recently in the form of a direct appeal to the news organization whose style on the term is followed by most mainstream media.

In a recent style update, the Associated Press clarified that it did not sanction the use of "undocumented," which is frequently used. The AP clarified that it did not use "illegal alien," "an illegal," "illegals" or "undocumented," but that "living in the country without permission" was an acceptable variation.

In response, the magazine ColorLines, published by the social justice think tank the Applied Research Center, had a petition going last week to urge readers to contact the AP directly as the news organization sought input for its 2012 AP Stylebook. ColorLines, which last year launched a "Drop the I-Word" campaign, listed these as suggested terms on its petition:

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