Los Angeles Times: ‘Undocumented’ Is Also Racist

Do you remember when the musician Prince changed his stage name to a symbol as a form of protest against his music label? Since no one could pronounce it, he was generally referred to as “the artist formerly known as Prince”  in the press. 

The immigration debate took a similar absurd turn yesterday thanks to the Los Angeles Times which announced to the world that it would not only cease referring to people who had violated American immigration laws as “illegal immigrants,” it would also refrain from using the latest politically correct term “undocumented” to describe them as well.

Perhaps this was inevitable given the fact that trying to use the word undocumented to refer to someone who overstayed a visa is clearly inaccurate. There are, in fact, documents that prove the individual in question came to this country at some point.

“The alternative suggested by the 1995 guidelines, ‘undocumented immigrants,’ similarly falls short of our goal of precision,” the paper admitted in a memo released to employees.

But rather than take the easy way out and use the fully accurate term “illegal immigrant,” the Times has decided to favor circumlocution instead:

In covering both individuals and groups, the goal is to provide relevance and context and to avoid labels.

Use the term "illegal immigration" to describe the phenomenon of entering or residing in a country in violation of the law.

Avoid using "illegal immigrant" or "undocumented immigrant" to describe individuals except when necessary in direct quotations. [...]

Be specific whenever possible in describing an individual’s status:

  • "Authorities said he crossed the border illegally."
  • "She entered the country to attend college but overstayed her student visa."
  • "He was brought here as a child by his parents, who entered the U.S. without a visa."

While the policy was stated formally yesterday, as the Times’s ombudsman noted, the paper has already been following this practice for some time. There is also a full copy of the memo at the link if you wish to read it.

In the announcement, the Times admitted that the terminology change was made after the Associated Press banned its writers from referring to people in the country against the law as “illegal immigrants” last month.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013