The following statement was issued on April 23 by Bobby Caina Calvan, chair of AAJA MediaWatch.
The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) has long stood for fairness and respect when it comes to covering our communities, and AAJA stands with the Associated Press and other news organizations in revamping how they describe people who are in our country illegally.
We commend AP for acting to revise its influential stylebook, a well-reasoned decision that we hope will spark further discussion about the term “illegal immigrant.” We agree with AP that “illegal” should not be used to describe people but be used to describe the actions people take. We, too, dislike unfair and unnecessary labels.
This change is relevant not just about people crossing the border from Mexico, but for others from Asia, Europe and other continents who are illegally residing in the United States. (In the spirit of full disclosure, two of AAJA’s officers are employed by AP.)
We applaud USA Today, in particular, for quickly looking into its own policies. While USA Today’s style may not be identical to that of AP, it acknowledged the pejorative nature of using “illegal” to describe human beings. In recent days, The Chicago Tribune has announced it will adhere to AP’s new style.
The New York Times this week also revised its policy. While the Times didn’t go far enough, we nevertheless appreciate the step of writers being asked “to consider alternatives when appropriate to explain the specific circumstances of the person in question, or to focus on actions: who crossed the border illegally; who overstayed a visa; who is not authorized to work in this country.”
These recent changes indicate that newsrooms across the country are taking the immigration matter seriously, and we hope that similar discussions will occur at more news outlets.
MediaWatch, AAJA’s watchdog program for fair and accurate news coverage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, stands ready to assist news organizations that have questions or concerns about covering our communities. As a resource, we offer this guide: http://www.aaja.org/aajahandbook.