Immigrants Are Undocumented, Not "Illegal"

author: 
Leo E. Laurence/Zenger's Newsmagazine

The following resolution, principally authored by Zenger’s associate editor Leo E. Laurence, was unanimously approved by the Committee on Diversity of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) August 18 and will be presented to the SPJ at its national convention in New Orleans September 25-27.

Immigrants Are Undocumented, Not “Illegal”

The following resolution, principally authored by Zenger’s associate editor Leo E. Laurence, was unanimously approved by the Committee on Diversity of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) August 18 and will be presented to the SPJ at its national convention in New Orleans September 25-27.

WHEREAS: Mainstream journalists are increasingly using the phrase “illegal immigrant” and/or the more offensive, “illegal alien,” in describing undocumented immigrants, and particularly Latinos.

WHEREAS: A fundamental legal principle embedded in our U.S. Constitution is that everyone (including non-citizens) is considered innocent of any crime until proven guilty in a court of law.

WHEREAS: This constitutional doctrine, often described as innocent-until-proven-guilty, is part of the laws of most of the industrialized nations. The U.S. Constitution applies to everyone in America, not just citizens.

WHEREAS: Simply put, only a judge can decide when a person is an “illegal,” and not a journalist.

WHEREAS: Unfortunately, the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook on-line says that “illegal immigrant” is preferred over “undocumented worker,” though that book is always evolving and may change. “Undocumented immigrant” is preferred.

WHEREAS: The National Association of Hispanic Journalists is also concerned with the increasing use of pejorative terms to describe the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States.

BE IT RESOLVED that the 2011 national convention of the Society of Professional Journalists (1) urges working journalists to avoid using either phrase: “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien” when writing their copy, and (2) urges an edit of the AP Stylebook to be consistent with this resolution.

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