Most people are unaware when certain words or phrases first start to drop from popular use. But the Associated Press’ recent decision to drop the phrase “illegal immigrant” from its stylebook has gained attention from newspapers across the country, as well as everyday citizens. There have been a variety of once-popular terms, no longer in use, for someone who isn’t yet a permanent resident. “Illegal alien” hasn’t been used in many years, and many people would now call that term offensive or politically incorrect.
It’s the focus on political correctness that has some people unhappy with the AP’s recent decision. The president of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC says this type of political correctness is getting out of hand.
However, a good way to test how this change affects the people at whom it’s aimed is to get the opinions of the people themselves. One man who has not yet achieved citizenship says being labeled “illegal” makes him feel like a criminal. A woman who is now a legal citizen, but was an illegal citizen in California for four years, says when she told others she was illegal, she felt “bad” and “ugly.”
Most people who immigrate to the United States are looking for a better life and just want to be welcomed and accepted. The AP says it’s acceptable to call an activity illegal, but it isn’t acceptable, and is in fact dehumanizing, to label a person as “illegal.” Instead, they recommend their writers fully describe a person’s immigration status. Perhaps this will lead more people to look at each person on an individual level, rather than lumping immigrants into a category that doesn’t distinguish between criminals and people trying to become a part of our great country.
Source: Los Angeles Times, “‘Illegal immigrant’: what words to use becomes a debate itself,” Cindy Chang and Marisa Gerber, April 3, 2013