Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Debating the 'i' word: Three different opinions, including one from the AP

Some popular opinion pieces recently have revived the long-running debate over the use of "illegal" as a way to describe immigrants in the United States without permission, with back-and-forth over what terms are or aren't acceptable alternatives and whether alternatives are even in order. Both "illegal" and "undocumented" are viewed by those on the left and right as politicized; a third term, "unauthorized," often used in academia, has seen more frequent use lately.

Joining the chorus of voices today in an MSNBC piece are Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C. organization that supports immigration restrictions and who favors "illegal alien"; Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the UC Davis School of Law and one of the bloggers behind ImmigrationProf Blog, who argues that using "illegal" to refer to people "instantly suggests that the person is undeserving of sympathy but in fact deserves punishment"; and David Minthorn, deputy standards editor of The Associated Press, whose stylebook continues to sanction "illegal immigrant."

It's a great online debate. Here's an excerpt from Minthorn's argument:

To describe individuals who may be living in a country without authorization, The AP Stylebook rules out using "illegal alien" and "illegals" in AP news reports. The language may be unnecessarily harsh as generic description.

The Stylebook also rules out using the term "undocumented" on our own in immigration contexts. This description may tend to minimize what could be a matter of civil or criminal law, such as evading border controls or residing without legal permission. "Undocumented" also suggests that the problem is a minor one of missing paperwork, when the people involved are in jeopardy of arrest, deportation or other sanctions.

Instead, AP provides for a variety of different terms for people alleged to be violating immigration law. One option for AP reporters is "illegal immigrant," a term added to the Stylebook in 2004.

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