How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'You can call it an illegal act': More readers on 'illegal' vs. 'undocumented'

A t-shirt worn at an immigrant student activists' event in Orange County, March 10, 2011

Earlier this week, KPCC's Public Insight Network asked members what term they use to decribe immigrants who are in the United States wihout permission: Illegal immigrant, undocumented immigrant, or "other."

The terminology of illegal immigration as it's applied to people is a long-running one, especially in newsrooms, but it's received renewed attention lately after former Washington Post journalist-turned-activist Jose Antonio Vargas recently challenged the New York Times and Associated Press to stop using "illegal." The news organizations have responded in defense and clarified why they use the term, along with others.

The Public Insight Network query asked people not only what term they use and why, but what personal experiences inform their decision to call these immigrants illegal, undocumented, or none of the above. The responses were interesting, with several people explaining how their background influences their words.

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'Illegal' or 'undocumented?' People explain which term they use and why

Immigration Activists Demonstrate In Los Angeles

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A student's t-shirt during a demonstration by immigrant student for an end to deportations on June 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif.

The long-running debate over what term to use for people who are in the United States without permission has taken a few high-profile turns lately, with former Washington Post journalist-turned-activist Jose Antonio Vargas recently challenging the New York Times and the Associated Press to stop using "illegal." In turn, the news organizations have responded in defense and clarified why they use the term, along with others.

Timed to a related segment on KPCC's Take Two yesterday, the station's Public Insight Network sent out brief questionnaires to members in the network, asking people not only what term they use and why, but what personal experiences inform their decision to call these immigrants illegal, undocumented, or none of the above.

A majority chose "undocumented," although it's hardly a scientific sample. Most interesting was the rest of what they had to say. Here are excerpts from a few of their responses, with slight copyediting:

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Readers vote for 'unauthorized' as term to use for immigrants in US without permission

Screen shot from Multi-American

A mini-poll in a post earlier this week asked readers what they think is the most appropriate term to use when referring to immigrants who are in the United States without permission: illegal, undocumented, or unauthorized.

And while you can hardly call the handful of responses that came in a representative sample, it was interesting to see that four out of five who voted chose "unauthorized."

The term isn't used much in media, being more popular in academia and among researchers. "Unauthorized" is commonly used in reports put out by the Pew Hispanic Center, for example, and by others who study immigration. 

But with "illegal" considered by some to be too politically charged and a demeaning term when used to describe people, and with "undocumented" considered by others to be a euphemism that isn't entirely correct, "unauthorized" is described by those who favor it as the most neutral term to use in the heated conversation that surrounds illegal immigration.

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Survey asks unauthorized immigrants which term they'd rather hear used, 'illegal' or 'undocumented'

As the debate over the terms "undocumented" and "illegal" has resurfaced in the media in recent days, ABC and Univision have put together a survey that makes logical sense: Why not ask the people referred to as "illegal" and "undocumented" themselves about how they'd prefer to be described?

Univision News posted the survey today. It's in English and Spanish. How the intro reads:

Here at ABC/Univision, we're working on an article about which term people without authorization would prefer used in the media and looking to hear from immigrant without status. Please fill out this form to help us with our reporting. If you choose to fill out our survey, our journalist may contact you. This information will be used in part two of a story we did with Jose Antonio Vargas. To learn more, read here: http://abcn.ws/R5G8at

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Poll: Should 'illegal' be retired? Is 'undocumented' a euphemism? Share your thoughts

Immigration Activists Demonstrate In Los Angeles

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A t-shirt worn during a demonstration in Los Angeles by immigrant students for an end to deportations, June 15, 2012

The "illegal" vs. "undocumented" debate is back on the mainstream radar again, this time in the New York Times after former Washington Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas challenged the Times and the Associated Press during a journalists' conference last week. Vargas went public with his status last year, revealing in a New York Times essay that he had been brought to the U.S. illegally as a child from the Philippines. 

Speaking in San Francisco at the Online News Association conference, Vargas was quoted in the Huffington Post:

"I have a really personal message to deliver," Vargas said at the start of his speech. "The message is it's time we retire the word and the term 'illegal immigrant' in referring to people. It is not only an inhumane term -- it is a political term, it is an unfair term, it is an inaccurate term."

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