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Hispanic Journalist Group to Media: Drop Use Of Word ‘Illegal’

Ahead of the Republican presidential debate on CNN, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists asked the network to stop using "illegals," "illegal alien" or "illegal immigrant" when referring to undocumented immigrants.

Mekahlo Medina, president of NAHJ, said his group is “concerned” with news organizations’ use of “pejorative terms” to describe the estimated 11.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

“Using the word in this way is grammatically incorrect and crosses the line by criminalizing the person, not the action they are purported to have committed. NAHJ calls on the media to never use ‘illegals’ in headlines,” Medina said.

On Monday night, Medina wrote that CNN had informed the journalist group that it will re-issue guidelines to their editorial departments regarding the term "illegals" as well as "illegal immigrants."

"The word illegal alone should never be used as a standalone noun to refer to individuals with documented or undocumented immigration status," said Geraldine Morida, Vice President of Diversity for CNN, to NAHJ.

The issue surrounding the language used around immigration comes as CNN is set to host the Republican presidential debate Wednesday night. Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and nine other contenders will meet that night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California for the second GOP debate.

The Associated Press Stylebook, used by many newsrooms, advises the terms "illegal" also should be used only to refer to an action, not a person or when necessary to the story, as a direct quote.

The stylebook also forbids use of "illegals," "illegal alien," "an illegal," or "undocumented," which is regarded by some as also biased and incorrect. The stylebook says acceptable descriptions include "entering a country illegally" or "without legal permission." For immigrants in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, AP advises using "temporary resident status."

Joining in the push for media organizations to change its word use is Define American, an organization founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is undocumented. NAHJ recently joined Define American’s #wordsmatter campaign and launched a petition on change.org to call on CNN to use the terms “undocumented immigrant” or “undocumented American” instead of “illegal.”

“When language is just flatly wrong, bluntly racist, and overtly dehumanizing, dismissing it as ‘political correctness’ simply serves to absolve inaccuracy, racism and inhumanity,” said Rev. Ryan M. Eller, executive director of Define American. “This isn’t about hurt feelings, it’s about creating a society where people aren’t defined by societal prejudices.”

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