Southwest Voices: The Term 'Illegal Immigrant'
April 05, 2013

When the Associated Press Stylebook decided to no longer sanction using the term "illegal" or "undocumented" immigrant, we noted our policy as well.

On the AP website a top editor clarified, "The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term 'illegal immigrant' or the use of 'illegal' to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that 'illegal' should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally."

As a striking change as this is for journalists, we were curious if this decision impacted our audience. We sent out a query asking people what terms they used, and were surprised by the responses we got along the border and across the U.S. Below is a map of responses, and some of the voices that highlight the complexities of a term.

If you would like to participate please fill out the query, and your voice will be added to the map.


What Terms Listeners Use By Location

Key: Purple: Undocumented Immigrants/Similar; Pink: Illegal Immigrants/Similar; Yellow: Other; Green: Immigrants Living Here Illegally; Blue: Combination Of Answers

Concord, CA

Term: Other

Reason: "Well, why is it important to note someone is an undocumented immigrant anyways. If I am reading an article by the AP, I don't really care if the person it notes is a citizen, is here on a visa or whatever the case may be. Its really just not important. Whether a person commits a crime or wins an award, it is irrelevant whether or not they have 'documents' or not." — Karuna Koy

Mesa, AZ

Term: Undocumented Immigrant/Other

On the AP's Decision: "It's about f$&king time" — Doryen Chin

Rowlett, TX

Term: Illegal alien/Illegals/Other

On the AP's Decision: "It's a blatant attempt to control the debate by limiting or changing the vocabulary. Far from a new tactic for the Progressives." — Robert White

Oakland, CA

Term: Immigrant Living Here Illegally/Undocumented Immigrant

Reason: "As an editor (working in medical advertising) who spends a lot of the day changing the term 'cancer patients' to 'patients with cancer' to avoid reducing people to their circumstances, I can see why the AP took this stance. Words matter!" — Thea Gray

Austin, TX

Term: Undocumented Immigrant

Reason: "Words have tremendous power, and consciously or subconsciously affect our minds and hearts - feeding fear and prejudice or moving us toward the possibility of resolving a thorny problem. I choose undocumented immigrant, because it is accurate (true) AND allows for the fact the lack of documentation Could have been an error (mistakes do happen) AND it allows that that person could become documented - there is hope." — Shirley Norwood

Fort Worth, TX

Term: Illegal alien

Reason: "I am from a family of immigrants that went through the legal process of becoming citizens of this country. Generations later I married a Mexican national and went through the unbelievably frustrating process of applying for a Fiance(e) Visa (which uses the term "Alien(s)" throughout the process) and eventually marrying her. I'm all for the streamlining and rationalization of the immigration process, however those that entered the country illegally, in the vast majority of cases to work, are Illegal aliens. My wife, when surrendering her border crossing card for individuals that live in the International Zone, would've been undocumented if her 90 day Fiance(e) visa expired prior to our marriage. People who cross the border for purposes of work without going through the entry process of our sovereign state enter illegally." — Greg Wurtele

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