DEAR READER: There are no illegal immigrants, just people who enter illegally

Friday, April 5, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:43 a.m. CDT, Friday, April 5, 2013

Dear Reader,

You may have missed Thursday’s big news of the day: The Associated Press announced that it would now use “underway” as one word, not two. “An argument is now under way/underway in Salon A,” tweeted an attendee at the annual American Copy Editors Society in St. Louis. Other tweets: “Whoah,” “Huge,” and “Noooooo!!!!”


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And so run the passions of copy editors.

You were more likely to have heard about another change to The Associated Press Stylebook. When it comes the long-running political battle over “illegal immigrant” vs. “undocumented worker,” the AP has chosen ….

None of the above.

The AP had previously rejected “undocumented worker” as being too imprecise. “Illegal alien” went otherworldly years ago. “Illegal immigrant,” it said on Tuesday, was dropped as a continuing house cleaning of labels on people.

You’ll continue to see the phrase in direct quotes. You’ll read about the issue of illegal immigration. When it comes to an individual, though, “acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission,” the Stylebook says now. The other important part: The writer should include attribution.

So it should be, “Warhover, who police say entered the country illegally, drove his bicycle into the back of a turnip truck Wednesday,” and not, “Warhover, an illegal immigrant, suffered turnip juice stains over 90 percent of his body.”

Actually, according to the stylebook, the article shouldn’t refer to my legal status at all unless it is pertinent. So a run-of-the-mill turnip truck accident probably wouldn’t include the illegal activity unless the accident was at the border while I was trying to sneak into the country.

Not surprisingly, Fox News saw hidden motives in the AP’s actions. The lead from an article Wednesday on the website:

“The Associated Press is being accused of trying to influence the immigration debate following a decision to stop using the term "illegal immigrant" in its coverage -- despite the fact it is still being used by U.S. government officials including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.”

As best as I can tell from the article, the name of the accuser is “some,” as in “some people.” Still, it’s true that the AP’s decision is a political act in that every word choice is a reflection of the values of the writer or organization. The AP says its decisions revolve around accuracy and clarity, and its value is against placing labels on people.

That goal is clearly impractical in all instances. I can’t imagine political stories about Congress that don’t identify who is a Republican and who is a Democrat.  It may be that avoiding “illegal immigrant” won’t work in all instances either. But I can agree with the aspiration to avoid simple labels that contribute to stereotypes and the intent to make such descriptions attributable. (“Who says” isa question that should be on every reader’s lips anyway when reading the news.)

Language evolves. Long ago we stopped referring to people who use wheelchairs as cripples and people who have a mental illness as crackpots. Sometimes, the debate never seems to end. Many people who believe abortion is wrong insist on using the term pro-life rather than anti-abortion, the term the AP adopted decades ago.

The AP’s decision on the usage of the term illegal immigrants certainly hasn’t ended the argument. In fact, there’s a new head of steam. The debate is under way.

And underway.


Thanks to the local Kiwanis clubs for giving Missourian editors some space and time a couple of weeks ago at the annual pancake breakfast. Editors Joy Mayer, Scott Swafford and Jeanne Abbott attended and gathered story ideas, feedback, and a few extra calories eating what I’m told was a very passable pancake.

Look for more Missourian listening posts around town. I’ll be at the Coffee Zone, 11 N. Ninth St., from 8 to 10 a.m. on Thursday. Stop on by.

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Ellis Smith April 5, 2013 | 7:06 a.m.

One obscene and utterly ridiculous word should be eliminated: "entitlement" (along with its plural, "entitlements"), in particular as applied to welfare matters.

Of some interest is that in the United States we are all entitled to, at some point in our lives, die - but a child, once conceived and in the womb, is not "entitled" to be born. Something's wrong there, either with the English language or our fuzzy thinking.

(Report Comment)
frank christian April 5, 2013 | 8:30 a.m.

I bet they rejected "undocumented Democrats", as replacement for illegal immigrants, also. (Rush L. and J. Leno)

I bet AP would also, in regard to all the changes to those many words not expressing their agenda well, reject the term "political correctness".

Of course, our central government is complicit in the labeling of the jihadist terror attack at Ft. Hood as workplace violance.

(Report Comment)
frank christian April 5, 2013 | 8:39 a.m.

Sorry about violence.

(Report Comment)
dan elliott April 5, 2013 | 9:09 a.m.

Illegal immigrant is NOT a label like crackpot that is derogitory. Illegal is a descriptor that the person is not in compliance with the law and Immigrant is a descriptor which states what part of the law the person is not in compliance with. I prefer term Illegal Alien as Alien is a further descriptor that says the peron in no way belongs here. There is a legal process, and yes the process is flawed, but it is a process. You are not allowed to rob a bank and once you make it to the sidewalk be called an Illegal Robber and people say it is ok, you are just doing it for your family and these are hard times. There are laws, laws may need changed, but until changed they are the law.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 5, 2013 | 9:12 a.m.

There are no prostitutes, just "sex workers."

My all-time favorite of political correctness is the childrens' storybook, "Little Black Sambo." Due to professed outrage over use of the word "black," the book's title was temporarily changed to "Little Brave Sambo." Then another group of malcontents insisted that "black" was racist, so the book was subsequently published under its original title. Go figure!

Meanwhile, the context of the book (the story) didn't at any time change; it deals with a dark-skinned little boy and some hungry tigers*. Tigers aren't indigenous to Africa, and some individuals from the Indian sub-continent have darker skins than those from Africa.

*-In the story, Sambo outwits some hungry - and incredibly selfish and stupid Tigers- making "Little Black Sambo" the perfect story for alumni of UMKC, UMSL and MS&T to read to their children or grandchildren. :)

(Report Comment)
Charles leverett April 5, 2013 | 11:08 a.m.

In other news, the AP will no longer use the term criminal or felon, opting instead for lawfully challenged. Also they will no longer be using the term democrat or republican, instead they will use word sheep.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 5, 2013 | 11:38 a.m.

@ dan elliott:

I agree with you.

A significant problem with our present law is its basis: we are at odds with the majority of the world's civilized and not-so-civilized countries. Skipping over the Latin (legal) terms, our law is based on the concept "under the Sun" (place of birth) whereas the more common international basis is "of the father." Under our system, anyone born in the United States, regardless of his/her parents' nationality, is automatically a United States citizen. Under the other and more widely used system of law, the child's nationality is determined by the nationality of the child's father, regardless of where geographically the child is born. For situations where the father is unknown or the father has died or is otherwise permanently out of the picture, then nationality of the mother applies to the child.

WHY did the United States adopt its present laws? The reason is actually obvious: from the time of the first colonies (English on the East Coast, and Spanish in what are today the states of Florida and New Meixico) until at least the early part of the 20th Century the imperative was to "mint" as many American citizens as we could: there was a big (geographic) country to fill up with citizens. Our current laws made sense in the past, but do they make sense now?

An interesting case in point: My late uncle's* Greek parents came to Chicago from Greece in the early 20th Century as legal aliens, had two children, put both children through University of Illinois (their son to a doctorate), never became United States citizens or ever INTENDED to so, and then moved back to Athens. It was all legal. Under Greek law the childen were also Greek citizens if they chose to be, and the daughter subsequently went to Greece.

Why that's awful! Is it? While the parents lived in Illinois their residence was legal and they paid taxes (but could not vote - although in Cook County, Illinois even dead people and dogs and cats sometimes manage to vote).

*-You can Google my uncle's bio: Constantine J. Alexopoulos.

(Report Comment)
Ryan Gavin April 5, 2013 | 11:43 a.m.

The problem many people seem to have trouble understanding is that the media is not (and should not be) in the business of convicting people. Terms like felon are used to describe someone who is lawfully convicted. Until someone is tried, he or she deserves the benefit of the doubt.

(Report Comment)
frank christian April 5, 2013 | 10:17 p.m.

Yeah Ellis, (great reference with your uncle)"in Cook County,Illinois even dead people and dogs and cats sometimes manage to vote)" There, (Illinois)the dead vote for the living, but only in Missouri do the living, vote for the dead: Carnahan v Ashcroft for U.S. Senate.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 6, 2013 | 4:38 a.m.


Well, voting in Cook County (Chicago) has been both a local and national bad joke since the 1920s, and maybe before that. It achieved national notoriety in the 1960 presidential election. One way it's usually put is that graveyards in those parts become "hyperactive" at both Halloween and election times.

However, that's not a problem, because election fraud doesn't exist in the United States. :)

Ashcroft published a book, titled "Never Again," several years ago, dealing primarily with 9/11 and the pathetic state of federal law enforcement interagency cooperation prior to 9/11. In an earlier chapter of the book he recounts the Carnahan situation - rather dispassionatly - mainly as context as to how he ceased to be a senator and was subsequently appointed federal attorney general.

I've always found it very amusing that Rolla, Missouri (population ~1900) is considered home to both the Carnahan AND Steelman families: definitely opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Constantine John Alexopoulos (he hated to be called "Constantine," and was known by the family as "Alex" and by all his students simply as "Dr. Alex") had one sister, Theodora ("Dora"), who returned to Greece and eventually married a wealthy Greek businessman named Pantos. It was Pantos' second marriage, and Dora had grown up stepchildren but never any of her own, nor did Alex and my aunt Juliet have children. They're all gone now: Uncle Alex in 1986, Dora (in Greece) in 1993, and my aunt in 2000. Among other things, I believe Pantos had exclusive rights to manufacture and distribute Coca-Cola in Greece.

[The pain killers have kicked in, so I'm going back to bed.]

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 6, 2013 | 7:31 a.m.

CORRECTION: The population of Rolla, Missouri is ~19,000, not ~1,900. Rolla now has a larger population than Kirksville, and at its present rate of growth could paas up Sedalia in a few years.

Because of MS&T? Hell no, because of Fort Leonard Wood! DOD folks living outside the fort prefer living in Phelps County to living in Pulaski County. I CAN'T IMAGINE WHY. :)

(Report Comment)

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