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Journalists argue over what to call undocumented immigrants

We've written before about the term "illegal immigrant" and the heightened attention given to it in recent news articles. With some states seeking to pass tough immigration laws, and with other groups trying to defeat those efforts, the question of how to refer to people in the United States who don't have residency papers has become a hot topic.

Undocumented immigrants and those sympathetic to their situation take offense to the term "illegal immigrant." As one Filipino immigrant wrote in The New York Times, not having proper identification is a civil issue, not a criminal one.

Still, the mainstream media often refers to undocumented immigrants as "illegal immigrants." But earlier in September, at the 2012 Online News Association Conference and Awards Banquet, former Washington Post reporter and current activist Jose Antonio Vargas made his argument against the mainstream use of "illegal immigrant."

"The term dehumanizes the people it seeks to describe," he said. "Think of it this way, in what other context do we call someone illegal?"

A journalism professor in Memphis, Tennessee, conducted a survey of articles published between 2000 and 2010. Of the 122,000 articles surveyed, 29 percent used the phrase "illegal alien," 59 percent used the words "illegal immigrant," and roughly 8 percent used "undocumented immigrant."

Another poll conducted by Fox News Latino indicated that 46 percent of the Latino respondents were offended by the term "illegal immigrant." Seven percent of the respondents were neutral, while only 35 percent considered the term to be accurate.

Regardless of how mainstream media outlets decide to refer to undocumented immigrants, New York residents with immigration concerns should be aware of their options for change of status and achieving naturalization.

Source: Fox News Latino, "Undocumented or Illegal: Media Outlets Battle Over Immigration Terms," Andrew O'Reilly, Sept. 25, 2012

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