‘Illegal Immigrant’ Officially Stricken From AP Stylebook

The controversial term “illegal immigrant” will no longer be used in Associated Press material, and the widely-used reference manual known as the AP Stylebook is being updated to reflect change.

The Associated Press announced the decision today in a blog post, detailing why the term “illegal immigrant” was being stricken from the AP’s lexicon. AP SVP and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll explains the decision in the post, decreeing that the “Stylebook no longer sanctions the term ‘illegal immigrant’ or the use of ‘illegal’ to describe a person.”

Carroll adds that ” ‘illegal’ should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.” As to why the AP decided to officially update its terminology on immigrants and their legal status, Carroll adds:

“The discussions on this topic have been wide-ranging and include many people from many walks of life. (Earlier, they led us to reject descriptions such as ‘undocumented,’ despite ardent support from some quarters, because it is not precise. A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence.)”

The AP’s blog post also points to similar updates of previously accepted labels of the same ilk as “illegal immigrant,” noting that the newswire is in the process of “ridding the Stylebook of labels.”

The post describes analogous changes to mental health language used in news reporting:

“The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was ‘diagnosed with schizophrenia'” instead of schizophrenic, for example.”


Carroll says that in order “to be consistent, [the AP] needed to change [its] guidance.”

The post also implores writers who feel other “labels” exist to write to stylebook@ap.org to add to the discussion of updating terms such as “illegal immigrant” in news writing.

Examples and guidelines include:

“Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegals or undocumented.

“Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.

“Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

“People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.”

In response to the AP’s decision to drop the term “illegal immigrant,” The New York Times indicated that it is also considering updating guidelines to discourage use of the controversial wording.