Is ‘Illegal Immigrant’ an Insulting Term?

Journal-isms: Immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas wants news sites to stop using the phrase.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Vargas Reopens Debate on “Illegal Immigrant”

Jose Antonio Vargas is a man on a mission,” Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the New York Times, wrote on Monday. “The journalist turned immigration activist wants news organizations to stop using the term ‘illegal immigrants,’ which he finds disparaging and inaccurate. He’s particularly focusing on The Times and The Associated Press to change their policies.

“Mr. Vargas has approached me about it by e-mail, and I’ve said I would be happy to hear him out. I should note that, as public editor, I don’t make Times policy on such things. However, I could, at some point, take a stand.

“At this point, I don’t know enough.

“I do know what Mr. Vargas — who revealed that he is an ‘undocumented immigrant’ in a Times Magazine piece last year — told the Online News Association in a speech there last Friday.

“And I talked about it Monday morning with Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards at The Times. ‘We do think about this, and we talk about it all the time,’ he said.

Asked about the matter by’s Mallary Tenore on Monday, he responded as follows:

” ‘ Obviously we know this is a sensitive area, one that we continue to struggle with. As my colleague Julia Preston, who covers immigration, has suggested, we’re trying hard to be neutral on an issue where there isn’t much neutral ground. . . .’ “

Corbett maintained that “illegal immigrants” was accurate and that “. . . Proposed alternatives like ‘undocumented’ seem really to be euphemisms . . . “