Immigration NewsImmigration ReformPodcast

Podcast: What’s In a Name? “Illegal” vs. “Undocumented” in Media Coverage of Immigration

Undocumented and unafraid

Is “undocumented” a neutral term? (Photo: Sarah-Ji/flickr)

The term “illegal immigrant” has appeared frequently in media reports this week as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the Obama administration’s challenge to Arizona’s tough immigration law SB 1070.

Many immigrant advocates argue that “illegal immigrant” is an offensive and inaccurate label for people who reside in the U.S. without legal documents authorizing their presence.  In response to this criticism, a number of news organizations have tempered -but not abandoned – their use of the phrase.  The New York Times, consider “illegal immigrant” a more neutral term than the phrase “undocumented immigrant,” which is preferred by many immigrant advocates.   However the Times does not use the phrase “illegal alien” in its reporting.

(At Feet in 2 Worlds we use “undocumented immigrant” in our reporting, and occasionally “unauthorized immigrant.”)

In this podcast, Fi2W executive producer John Rudolph discusses the editorial and political implications of this debate over terminology with Julia Preston, national immigration correspondent for the New York Times, and Monica Novoa, a writer for Colorlines and the organizer of the “Drop the I-Word” campaign, which has been urging news organizations to stop using “illegal immigrant” in their reporting.

Listen to the podcast:

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Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Sirus Fund.  Fi2W podcasts are supported by WNYC, New York Public Radio and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

AboutFeet in Two Worlds
Feet in Two Worlds brings the work of immigrant and ethnic media journalists from communities across the U.S. to public radio and the web. Since 2005, this award-winning project has expanded the diversity of voices and stories on public radio by presenting the work of journalists representing a broad spectrum of immigrant communities including Arab, Bosnian, Brazilian, Chinese, Haitian, Indian, Irish, Latin American, Pakistani, Polish, and Russian immigrants. Feet in Two Worlds reporters appear on nationally-distributed public radio programs including PRI’s The World, Studio 360, and The Takeaway, American Public Media’s Marketplace and NPR’s Latino USA, as well as on public radio stations WNYC, New York Public Radio, and WDET in Detroit.