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 2 Worlds (Fi2W) is an independent media outlet, journalism training program, and launchpad for emerging immigrant journalists and media makers of color. Our work brings positive and meaningful change to America's newsrooms and has a broader impact on how immigration is reported and the ethnic and racial composition of news organizations.