What’s In a Name? “Illegal” vs. “Undocumented”

Email a Friend

The term “illegal immigrant” has appeared frequently in media reports last week as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the Obama administration’s challenge to Arizona’s tough immigration law SB 1070.

Many immigrant advocates argue that “illegal immigrant” is an offensive and inaccurate label for people who reside in the U.S. without legal documents authorizing their presence.  In response to this criticism, a number of news organizations have tempered - but not abandoned – their use of the phrase.  The New York Times, consider “illegal immigrant” a more neutral term than the phrase “undocumented immigrant,” which is preferred by many immigrant advocates.   However the Times does not use the phrase “illegal alien” in its reporting.

(At Feet in 2 Worlds we use “undocumented immigrant” in our reporting, and occasionally “unauthorized immigrant.”)

In this podcast, Fi2W executive producer John Rudolph discusses the editorial and political implications of this debate over terminology with Julia Preston, national immigration correspondent for the New York Times, and Monica Novoa, a writer for Colorlines and the organizer of the “Drop the I-Word” campaign, which has been urging news organizations to stop using “illegal immigrant” in their reporting.