In the past few months, Associated Press (AP) and other major media organizations have dropped the use of “Illegal Immigrants” − a term to reference migrant populations that do not have documentations standardized by the US government. This terms has widely been criticized by human rights and Latino immigration-rights activists, who consider that the “term criminalizes people rather than their actions”.
Huffington Post argues that “AP’s dropping of 'Illegal Immigrants' could have wide Ramifications for Media” because major media organizations may follow in suit. On the other hand, the change has made AP a political target of some right-wing organizations. Fox News, for instance, has questioned why AP would change the choice of words when government administration also use “illegal immigrants”.
The types of words used to describe a population have immense power in the way a group of people is perceived within the political sphere. AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carrolls explained AP's position in a blog, as reported by the Washington Post:
(...) it tells users that ‘illegal’ should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally. (...) The move, Carroll writes, is part of a broader shift away from labeling people and towards labeling behavior — for example, referring to people ‘diagnosed with schizophrenia’ instead of ‘schizophrenics’.Not only is the shift in word choice changing how media organizations will report on undocumented immigrants in the United States, but this is also a demostration of media organizations challenging the vernacular used by high raking government officials to describe a group of people. Words have a powerful ability to set the understanding an event, and media organizations’ close examination and reflection on words are an integral part of journalism ethics.
- Rebecca Son