Society of Professional Journalists Questioning 'Illegal Immigrant' As An 'Offensive' Term

By Eric Scheiner | December 29, 2010 | 3:32 PM EST

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( - The Diversity Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) is undertaking an educational campaign against the term “illegal immigrant,” seeking to inform reporters that the term “illegal immigrant” is “offensive” to Latinos.

In the latest issue of SPJ’s magazine ‘Quill’, SPJ’s Diversity Committee member Leo Laurence writes about the campaign, referencing the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ recommendation to use “undocumented immigrant” or “undocumented worker” and to “[a]void using ‘illegal(s)’ as a noun.”

"SPJ’s Diversity Committee met during the 2010 convention in Las Vegas and decided to engage in a yearlong educational campaign designed to inform and sensitize journalists as to the best language to use when writing and reporting on undocumented immigrants," wrote Laurence.

In his article, Laurence also made a constitutional argument against the term 'illegal immigrant', “One of the most basic of our constitutional rights is that everyone (including non-citizens) is innocent of any crime until proven guilty in a court of law," wrote Laurence. "That’s guaranteed under the Fifth, Sixth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution.” 

“Simply put, only a judge, not a journalist, can say that someone is an illegal,” Laurence adds.

The ‘Quill’ article also quotes SPJ Diversity Committee chairman George Daniels as saying the move, “is not about being politically correct,” but is about aiming to “’minimize harm’ when we report.”

'The Associated Press Stylebook' used by many professional journalists, states that “illegal immigrant” is “the preferred term, rather than ‘illegal alien’ or ‘undocumented worker’.”

SPJ delegates will consider a full resolution regarding use of the term 'illegal aliens' at the 2011 convention.


Eric Scheiner
Eric Scheiner
Eric is the Senior Video Producer for