We took an overdue step at the New Haven Register, Middletown Press and Register Citizen on Thursday and instructed reporters and editors to stop using the terms “illegal aliens” and “illegal immigrants.” We’ll use the term “undocumented immigrants” from now on.
Our move was prompted by a resolution passed at the annual convention of the Society of Professional Journalists in New Orleans earlier this week. The organization urged news organizations to depart from Associated Press style, which favors the term “illegal immigrant.”
The SPJ resolution refers to the term “illegal immigrant” as “politically charged” and the term “alien” as “offensive.”
“A fundamental principle embedded in our U.S. Constitution is that everyone (including non-citizens) is considered innocent of any crime until proven guilty in a court of law,” the resolution says. “Only the court system, not reporters and editors, can decide when a person has committed an illegal act.”
One could argue that even this is beside the point. “Illegal” is an inaccurate term when talking about immigration status, because “being in this country without authorization is not a crime, it’s a civil violation.”
And debates about enforcement of immigration policy aside, Connecticut lawmakers have come to recognize the reality – and value to the state – of our immigrant population, including the undocumented. It would be inappropriate for us to continue calling any human being “illegal.”