Target: Jill Abramson, editor of The New York Times
Goal: Allow Times journalists to refer to immigrants as “undocumented” rather than “illegal”
Language has power–especially when wielded by one of the foremost news publications in the country. That’s why immigration activists were shocked to discover that The New York Times doesn’t just encourage its writers to use the phrase “illegal immigrant” in reference to those living in the United States without visas. Its style guide actually mandates the term, prohibiting journalists from using any alternative words like “undocumented” or “unauthorized” in reference to immigrants.
Rhetoric surrounding immigration has grown harsher over the past decade, as even news outlets sworn to neutrality brandish terms like “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien” with increasing frequency. Using the word “illegal” to refer to people themselves rather than their activity cements the image of undocumented immigrants as criminals dodging the justice system in order to take advantage of American prosperity and “steal” jobs from local workers.
The New York Times‘s style guide includes the following disconcerting entry on “illegal immigrant”: ”illegal immigrant is the preferred term, rather than the sinister-sounding illegal alien. Do not use the euphemism undocumented.”
Dubbing “undocumented” as a euphemism when it is in fact the preferred term that immigrants use to describe their status removes power from those most directly affected by the Times‘s language. By barring journalists from using undocumented immigrants’ preferred identity language, the Times is inflicting rhetorical violence upon those who are already at risk of violence, abuse and deportation.
Tell The New York Times to stop insisting upon the derogatory term “illegal immigrant” and permit journalists to describe immigrants as “undocumented.”
Dear Jill Abramson,
As the editor of one of the most prestigious publications in the world, it is your responsibility to ensure The New York Times does not publish language that amounts to rhetorical violence against vulnerable groups. By insisting that journalists use the term “illegal immigrant” to refer to those living in the United States without documentation, you are promoting the idea that these immigrants are inherently criminals–that their very identity is illegal.
Undocumented immigrants already face violence and harassment across the country, much of it from law enforcement officials overstepping their duties to inflict fear upon Latino communities. I hope they don’t have to additionally face rhetorical violence from your publication for much longer. Amend your style guide to allow the use of words like “undocumented” or “unauthorized” to refer to immigrants living in the United States.
[Your Name Here]