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SPJ campaign to eliminate term “illegal immigrant”

Leo E. Laurence, a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Diversity Committee, recently reported the Committee had “decided to engage in a yearlong educational campaign designed to inform and sensitize journalists as to the best language to use when writing and reporting on people of different cultures and backgrounds.” The “best language to use” refers to the use of the term “illegal immigrant,” which Laurence says the Committee opposes. Since news of the campaign broke, SPJ has prefaced Laurence’s article with the following:

CLARIFICATION: The following article is an opinion piece and does not reflect the views of SPJ, its membership or its Diversity Committee. The committee itself has taken no official initiative on the use of the phrase “illegal immigrant.”

Though the organization is now trying to clarify Laurence’s article as an “opinion piece,” the author quotes committee chairman George Daniels’ email announcing the planned educational re-education campaign. He further quotes Daniels seeming to anticipate and deflect criticism that would arise, claiming the campaign is “not about being politically correct.” Instead Daniels says the campaign intends to “minimize harm” by utilizing sensitivity to other cultures in their reporting. But it’s hard to get the genie back in the bottle.

Daniels is probably telling the truth when he says this isn’t about being politically correct. More likely, it’s a conscious effort to re-educate not only journalist, but consumers of news as well. SPJ’s real intent is more likely to change Americans’ attitudes toward illegal immigration by using softer, gentler language to describe the criminals. The Diversity Committee has decided that journalists’ have a duty to shape Americans’ psyche rather than report the news.

The SPJ campaign flies in the face of the accepted journalistic standard on the topic found in the Associated Press stylebook. The AP stands by its standard recommendation that journalists use the term “illegal immigrant.” The Daily Caller reports AP’s Deputy Standards Editor David Minthorn responded, “Together, the terms [illegal + immigrant] describe a person who resides in a country unlawfully by residency or citizenship requirements. Alternatives like undocumented worker, illegal alien or illegals lack precision or may have negative connotations. Illegal immigrant, on the other hand, is accurate and neutral for news stories.”

Laurence’s response to Minthorn’s defense of its standard, “The Associated Press is wrong. Their stylebook is wrong. It is not consistent with the Constitution.”

Laurence believes the US Constitution mandates journalists make the adjustment and stop using the term “illegal” in favor of the more benign “undocumented.” Noting that all are presumed innocent until proven guilty he declares, “Simply put, only a judge, not a journalist, can say that someone is an illegal.” The problem here is that a news article describing illegal activity as illegal activity is not the same as convicting someone of a criminal offense. The constitutional argument Laurence puts forth is only valid within the US legal system, and not applicable in any sense to journalists and their reporting. If it were, reporters should stop calling kidnappers, murderers, rapists, child abusers, thieves, and every other kind of criminal by the name of their crime.

Jehmu Greene, former director of the Women’s Media Center, agrees with Laurence’s assertion and the SPJ campaign to stamp out the use of the “illegal immigrant” label. She even goes so far as to state that use of the term is “increasing violence against immigrants.” When asked by Fox News host Megan Kelly to provide evidence of her claim, Greene was unable to provide any. Instead, she launched into an obfuscatory narrative about language changing the way people “look at different communities.”

The simple fact is the Society of Professional Journalists Diversity Committee is launching a campaign to change the way illegal immigration is reported in an effort to prevent American citizens and legal immigrants from recognizing the criminal nature of their entry into the United States. Brad Blakeman, former assistant to President Bush, goes so far as to declare the real intent behind this campaign to achieve amnesty for the estimated 12 million illegal aliens in the country today. That sounds more likely.

The liberal left want amnesty as a means of securing 12 million more voters to support their agenda to destroy this country. The motivation for this campaign may not be political correctness, but it is most certainly political.

Earlier this month, US Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry was killed in a shootout along the Arizona-Mexico border. A study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform found last summer that illegal immigration costs the US approximately $113 billion per year. According to the study, the costs of illegal immigration to the state of Texas is equal to its budget deficit, and the costs to the states of New York and California exceed their respective budget deficits.

The SPJ campaign to eradicate the use of the term “illegal immigrant” seeks to cover up these problems and gloss over the negative impact of their crimes on our society. Politics, pure and simple.

We will continue to use the AP approved, accepted, and accurate term “illegal immigrant” to describe immigrants who break our laws to enter this country.

Tags: Illegal Immigration, Illegal Immigrants, Undocumented Immigrants, Associated Press, SPJ, Society of Professional Journalists, Political Correctness, Liberal, Journalism, Constitution, Press

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December 31, 2010 - Posted by | Immigration


  1. I am on the SPJ board in San Diego. Thank you very much for publishing the clarification.

    It’s understandable that people would be misled by the language in Mr. Laurence’s opinion piece. To my eye, the piece does appear to claim he’s speaking for SPJ and the Diversity Committee. But Mr. Laurence’s opinion is only that. That opinion should be not be taken as a reflection of what most SPJ members think.

    For the record, I personally think “illegal immigrant” is fine. It is a descriptive term that gets across the main point of contention: People who have immigrated here illegally.

    Comment by Bradley J. Fikes | December 31, 2010 | Reply

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Allison III. John Allison III said: You Asked for It! SPJ campaign to eliminate term “illegal immigrant”: Leo E. Laurence, a member of the Society o… […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention SPJ campaign to eliminate term “illegal immigrant” « America, You Asked For It! -- | December 31, 2010 | Reply

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