Post’s style guide on usage of the phrase “illegal immigrant” raises questions

As an addendum to a shrill column by Ruben Navarette arguing that the term “illegal immigrant” should not be replaced by a phrase like “undocumented worker,”  The Denver Post Perspective section published The Post’s guidelines on how Post journalists should use the terms.

Unfortunately, the explanation apparantly only appeared in the print edition.

I was going to ask The Post to put it online, and I’m thinking its omission from the website was just an oversight, but before I did, I thought I’d put it out there for people to see. You can see it on Bigmedia.org here.

My question for The Post, which argues for the use of the term “illegal immigrant” to describe people without documentation, is this: what constitutes sufficient proof that an individual doesn’t have proper documentation?

If someone admits not having proper documentation? If immigration officials or police make this determination? If someone can’t produce documentation immediately? What’s the evidentiary standard?

It’s one thing to label the group of people who are presumably in the United States illegally as “illegal immigrants,” but it’s another to presume any single individual is an “illegal immigrant.”

Last year, Post City Editor Dana Coffield told me that The Post only refers to someone’s immigration status “when it becomes part of and material to the public record”–unlike talk-radio host Peter Boyles who dehumanizes himself and all of us by implying or asserting that someone with a Spanish surname is an “illegal.”

Anyway, I’ll ask The Post my question about its style guide next week, and I’ll include a few of the best questions from my readers, if you have any. Shoot them my way, if you do to tips@bigmedia.org.

Follow Jason Salzman on Twitter @bigmediablog

6 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. VoyageurVoyageur says:

    My question for The Post, which argues for the use of the term “illegal immigrant” to describe people without documentation, is this: what constitutes sufficient proof that an individual doesn’t have proper documentation?

      If the question is choosing between “illegal immigrant” and “undocumented worker,” as the Navarette column apparently argued [I didn't read it] then your argument that somehow we have to prove the person in question doesn’t have proper documents applies with equal force to either term.  In short, how can you use the more euphemistic “undocumented worker” without likewise summoning “sufficient proof” that the persons doesn’t have said documents.  

      Do we need a third term: “Person of undertermined immigration status?”

  2. GalapagoLarryGalapagoLarry says:

    Unless you know they’re documented or undocumented, legal or illegal, a worker or unemployed–they’re just immigrants. Simple, no?

  3. dwyer says:

    “Do we need a third term: “Person of undertermined immigration status?”

    YES.

    You realize, of course, that would apply to all of us until or unless we could produce a valid passport.  Birth certificate won’t do it, as they do not have pictures.

  4. Jason Salzman says:

    So if you’re referring to a specific person, you don’t use any term, unless you have proof of its accuracy.

    For the larger group of immigrants who are here without documentation, the issue is more complicated, in my opinion, assuming you accept that there are millions of people in our country who crossed the border illegally.

    One argument made by those who favor the word “undocumented” for these people is that “illegal immigrants” implies ongoing criminal activity, just because they are here, when, in fact, being here is not a crime, even if they came here illegally.

    Coming here illegally is apparently a civil violation at the time of entry, and working without proper documents is a crime, but just being in the U.S. without documentation is not.

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