By Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012

The “i-word” could stay entrenched in our national vocabulary for some time to come, if the Associated Press and The New York Times have anything to say about it.

Both news groups refused the request from journalist Jose Antonio Vargas to stop using the term “illegal Immigrant” in their writing.

Here is a roundup of the justifications used by the AP and the Times:

1. Illegal immigrant is clear, accurate, and concise.

2. Vargas’s suggested substitutes are unacceptable. The leading candidate, “undocumented immigrant,” sounds ambiguous and euphemistic. It’s also inaccurate, says Tom Kent of the AP: “Many illegal immigrants aren’t 'undocumented' at all; they may have a birth certificate and passport from their home country, plus a U.S. driver’s license, Social Security card or school ID."

3. Vargas’s argument that illegal immigrant is a dehumanizing term—by calling a person, not an act, illegal—is irrelevant. When the Times and AP use illegal, it refers to the act of immigrating in violation of the law, not to a person. Kent observes that the AP also uses the terms “illegal miner” and “illegal logger” in the same vein.

4. One of Vargas’s main points is that unauthorized immigration is a civil offense, not a criminal one. The AP dismissed the observation as irrelevant, since civil offenses are also illegal. As was written in Kent’s memo: “We do not say ‘criminal immigrant.’ ”

5. Neither group feels that it reduces the issue of immigration to a label. Their overall reportage provides nuance and complexity to contextualize their terminology.

The conclusion reached by The Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan: Removing “illegal immigrant” from newspapers does not benefit readers.

I’m with Vargas, but it’s likely that even he acknowledges the virtue of some of these points.

Law is not my bailiwick, but the distinction between civil and criminal offenses in this matter strikes me as being neither here nor there.

Kent’s argument regarding the documentation of unauthorized immigrants is silly (it’s pretty obvious what sort of documents we’re

talking about here), but perhaps the proposed substitution terminology could be a touch improved.

I’d be remiss to ignore the quality (albeit imperfect) journalism produced by both parties that complicates and humanizes the issue of immigration.

But both groups are wrong to refuse Vargas’ request, despite some solid arguments. They failed to address what lies at the heart of the matter: The impact a name has on the fabric of our lives.

I don’t know what it feels like to be branded as illegal (and really, neither do illegal miners or illegal loggers; I’m shocked that the Times made the comparison). But it’s not hard to imagine that when a person is inculcated with the idea that their existence is an aberration, the result is damaging.

And this is what illegal immigrant does—it brands people.

So what if it refers to a past action, not a person, in the eyes the Times and the AP?

So what if the term is concise?

Good intentions and concerns for legibility are irrelevant when the impact of illegal immigrant causes so much pain and stigma.

People like the Republican strategist Frank Luntz knew this: He wrote a memo approving encouraging the GOP to use the term in their rhetoric, to maximize the stigmatization of unauthorized immigrants.

In the words of Vargas, “How can journalists, who are supposed to be neutral, take something off the pages of somebody like Frank Luntz?”

The vocabulary of the Times and the AP helps shape our national dialogues (especially when the stylebook of the latter is so ubiquitous). As responsible journalists, they need to drop the

“i-word,” and shift our national conversation away from damaging rhetoric.

Erik Lorenszonn is an intern at The Progressive.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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