The organization, whose apparent slogan is "Increasing the Influence of Latinos in U.S. Newsrooms," both counsels and chides us in a recent press release (NAHJ Urges News Media to Stop Using Dehumanizing Terms When Covering Immigration) :
[T]he National Association of Hispanic Journalists calls on our nationâ€™s news media to use accurate terminology in its coverage of immigration and to stop dehumanizing undocumented immigrants.But language evolves, and, in fact, the word "illegal" as a noun meaning "illegal immigrant" already appears in at least one dictionary.
NAHJ is concerned with the increasing use of pejorative terms to describe the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States. NAHJ is particularly troubled with the growing trend of the news media to use the word â€?illegalsâ€? as a noun, shorthand for "illegal aliens". Using the word in this way is grammatically incorrect and crosses the line by criminalizing the person, not the action they are purported to have committed. NAHJ calls on the media to never use â€?illegalsâ€? in headlines.
Shortening the term in this way also stereotypes undocumented people who are in the United States as having committed a crime. Under current U.S. immigration law, being an undocumented immigrant is not a crime, it is a civil violation. Furthermore, an estimated 40 percent of all undocumented people living in the U.S. are visa overstayers, meaning they did not illegally cross the U.S. border.
In addition, the association has always denounced the use of the degrading terms â€?alienâ€? and â€?illegal alienâ€? to describe undocumented immigrants because it casts them as adverse, strange beings, inhuman outsiders who come to the U.S. with questionable motivations. â€?Aliensâ€? is a bureaucratic term that should be avoided unless used in a quote.
I could sympathize, sort of, with the NAHJ, because the term "illegals" has always struck me as a bit raw, so I've mostly avoided using it.
However, my sympathy for their viewpoint quickly evanesces because of the tendentious fog throughout their press release, including the Big Lie that "being an undocumented immigrant is not a crime, it is a civil violation." This needs to be slapped down every time it appears: You can go to jail for entry-without-inspection, so that type of illegal immigration is a crime (United States Code Title 8, Section 1325a). (Overstaying a visa is, apparently, in a different, non-criminal category.)
You'll have to read for yourself the NAHJ's silly condemnation (beyond what's quoted above) of the word "alien" for non-citizens, a use that goes back at least as far as the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts of the early American republic.
Amazingly, NAHJ is even skittish about the word "immigrant":
Similar to reporting about a person's race, mentioning that a person is a first-generation immigrant could be used to provide readers or viewers with background information, but the relevancy of using the term should be made apparent in the story. Also, the status of undocumented workers should be discussed between source, reporter and editors because of the risk of deportation.Presumably to nobody's surprise, the NAHJ settles upon "undocumented immigrant" and "undocumented worker" as the acceptable terms. Luckily, famous environmentalist Edward Abbey anticipated these ink-cloud-spewers more than 25 years ago in his classic brief essay, Immigration and Liberal Taboos:
In the American Southwest, where I happen to live, only sixty miles north of the Mexican border, the subject of illegal aliens is a touchy one. Even the terminology is dangerous: the old word wetback is now considered a racist insult by all good liberals; and the perfectly correct terms illegal alien and illegal immigrant can set off charges of xenophobia, elitism, fascism, and the ever-popular genocide against anyone careless enough to use them. The only acceptable euphemism, it now appears, is something called undocumented worker. Thus the pregnant Mexican woman who appears, in the final stages of labor, at the doors of the emergency ward of an El Paso or San Diego hospital, demanding care for herself and the child she's about to deliver, becomes an "undocumented worker." [punctuation follows the version in a book compendiumof Abbey's essays. ](Abbey's essay is also the source of the oft-used quotation, "The conservatives love their cheap labor; the liberals love their cheap cause.")
Of course this particular dispute over straightforward, accurate language vs. language promoted by agenda-journalists isn't new. So I'll simply offer a parting analogy:
Someone in trouble with the law because he's robbed a bank is considered a "bank robber" when the subject is his crime and/or its consequences. This doesn't contradict the possibility that the person treats his dog well, is skilled at darts, and phones his mother on her birthday.
Similarly, when we're discussing public policy affecting people who have broken our immigration laws by entry-without-inspection or by overstaying a visa, it's sensible to call the people "illegal aliens." Calling them this doesn't foreclose the possibility that such people are parents, pursue craft hobbies in their spare time, know how to clean a carburetor, like pizza, etc.
Readers might want to take the matter up with the NAHJ's two listed contacts, Joseph Torres, (202) 662-7143, and Daniela Montalvo, (202) 662-7152. You could offer them a trade: We'll forswear the use of "illegals" if they'll avoid using "immigrant" in the designation of an illegal alien!