The New York Times’ public editor said Tuesday that she won’t urge journalists at the daily to stop using the term “illegal immigrant” to refer to undocumented people living in the United States despite requests that the phrase be discarded as inaccurate and inflammatory.
“Readers won’t benefit if Times bans the term ‘illegal immigrant,’ was the title of Tuesday’s blog post by Margaret Sullivan, whose job is to serve as an advocate for readers.
Illegal immigrant, she wrote, “is clear and accurate; it gets its job done in two words that are easily understood. The same cannot be said of the most frequently suggested alternatives - ‘unauthorized,’ ‘immigrants without legal status,’ ‘undocumented.’”
“This is not a judgment on immigration policy or on the various positions surrounding immigration reform, or those who hold those positions. Nor is it meant to be uncaring about the people to whom the words apply,” the public editor said.
“It’s simply a judgment about clarity and accuracy, which readers hold so dear,” Sullivan concluded.
With this decision, The New York Times attempted to definitively settle the debate opened by Filipino-American journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who expressly asked the paper not to use the expression “illegal immigrants,” saying that the phrase was “imprecise, inaccurate and inflammatory.”
Vargas launched the debate last year when he published in The New York Times an article entitled “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant,” in which he recounted his personal experience to denounce the treatment undocumented foreigners receive in the United States.