New Guidance On Immigration

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat in Tuesday’s primary has brought the immigration issue into the news again because of the role it played in the outcome of that race. His opponent accused Cantor of supporting “amnesty” (which Cantor denied). Pundits say Cantor’s defeat means there’s no chance Congress will take up immigration legislation this year.

As we discussed the news today, it became apparent that our guidance on the use of terms such as “illegal immigration,” “illegal immigrants” and “undocumented immigrants” has not been consistent.

Here’s some new guidance for both on-air and online references.

Like The Associated Press and The New York Times, we believe “illegal immigration” is an acceptable term when we’re reporting about the issue.

In other words, if we’re referring to a general class of actions that include entering the  country without going through Customs or staying in the country past a visa’s expiration — the types of things at the core of the debate over immigration policies — “illegal immigration” can be used when discussing the issue.

But we avoid phrases such as “illegal immigrant[s]” and “undocumented immigrant[s].”

How come?

First, we can’t always determine if a specific person or even a group is or is not in the country legally or without documents. So the first words in those phrases — “illegal” and “undocumented” — are assumptions that may not be accurate when used that way.

Second, the words “illegal” and “undocumented” are labels that are being applied by those on both sides of the debate. It is generally best to avoid labeling people, especially with terms that partisans have chosen. We determine what words we use, not those who have agendas.

The better approach takes a few more words. Instead of simply saying these are illegal immigrants, we should describe the kinds of things they’ve done — “overstayed visas,” “scaled fences  at the border to get into the U.S.,” “paid a smuggler to be driven here in the back of a produce truck,” or perhaps simply “people who are believed to have entered the country illegally.”

What about “undocumented?” It’s the word that some advocates favor. But as the AP notes, “it has a flavor of euphemism.” It’s not always accurate either. Many of those who are in the country illegally have some sort of documentation — passports, expired visas, drivers’ licenses, Social Security cards, school IDs, etc.

Another word to avoid: “aliens.” The Times calls it “sinister-sounding.” Websters suggests that in this context an alien is someone who “bears political allegiance” to another country — which in many cases would just be wrong when describing this group of people.

Finally, we do not refer to the group of people as “illegals.” Again, that’s labeling without giving context.

To summarize:

– “Illegal immigration” is acceptable when discussing the issue.

– “Illegal immigrant” and “illegal immigrants” are to be avoided.

– “Undocumented immigrants” is to be avoided.

– “Illegals” is not acceptable.

– “Aliens” is not acceptable.

How this guidance could be applied:

On the air today we said: Immigration “was a big issue in the race. Conservatives simply didn’t believe Cantor’s claims that he opposed amnesty for illegal immigrants.”

Another way of saying that: Immigration “was a big issue in the race. Conservatives simply didn’t believe Cantor’s claims that he opposed amnesty for anyone who may be here illegally.”

Yes, we are making things a bit more difficult and it might seem like we’re parsing words too carefully. Suggestions of better alternatives are always welcome.

Related note: We realize our headline writers face a particularly tough challenge when dealing with stories about this issue. The key may be to focus on the issue, not the individuals, when crafting headlines.

———-

ADDENDUM

Newscast asked for “wrong way, right way” scripts. Here we go:

Wrong way.

Immigration policy is on center stage again after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat Tuesday in his Republican primary. NPR’s Mark Memmott explains why the Virginia congressman’s surprising loss has put the issue back in the political spotlight:

3-2-1

College professor Dave Brat accused Cantor of favoring amnesty for most illegal immigrants. Cantor said he DOESN’T support forgiveness for illegals. But Brat’s charge stuck — he beat Cantor by more than 20 percentage points. Analysts say it was the illegal aliens issue that sank Cantor.

Now, House Republicans are expected to put legislation aimed at overhauling immigration policy on the backburner, says Republican pollster Frank Luntz:

“The GOP is going to hit ‘pause.’ ”

But Democrats may seize on any GOP reluctance to take up the issue, says Democratic pollster Mark Mehlman:

“Any delay is not going to please Hispanic voters.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are about 11 million illegal immigrants in the nation.

Mark Memmott, NPR News

—-

Right way.

Immigration policy is on center stage again after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat Tuesday in his Republican primary. NPR’s Korva Coleman explains why the Virginia congressman’s surprising loss has put the issue back in the political spotlight:

3-2-1

College professor Dave Brat accused Cantor of favoring amnesty for some who are in the U.S. illegally. Cantor said he DOESN’T support that. But Brat’s charge stuck — he beat Cantor by more than 20 percentage points. Analysts say it was the amnesty accusation that sank Cantor.

Now, House Republicans are expected to put legislation aimed at overhauling immigration policy on the backburner, says Republican pollster Frank Luntz:

“The GOP is going to hit ‘pause.’ ”

But Democrats may seize on any GOP reluctance to take up the issue, says Democratic pollster Mark Mehlman:

“Any delay is not going to please Hispanic voters.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security, about 11 million people are in the U.S. illegally.

Korva Coleman, NPR News

(Memmos, June 12, 2014)

June 12, 2014

Comments are closed.