NAVARRETTE: 'Illegal immigrant' is the correct term

  • (DANA SUMMERS / Tribune Media Services)

Now that it has dropped the term “illegal immigrant” from its stylebook, the Associated Press should admit its mistake and print a correction.

This change isn't about journalism. It's about political correctness. The two should not mix.

Even the official explanation by AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll is incomprehensible. In a blog post, Carroll wrote: “The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term 'illegal immigrant' or the use of 'illegal' to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that 'illegal' should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.” If you're scratching your head right now, you're not alone. Carroll's explanation is as convoluted as they come. It mixes together — in one big rhetorical stew — nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. You can say someone immigrated illegally but you can't call him an illegal immigrant? That makes no sense.

Just a few months ago, the AP was in the opposite camp. When activists pressured it to dump what they call the “I-word,” the news agency showed some spine and refused.

That's what journalists are supposed to do. It's not our job to play the role of defense attorneys who want to lessen the offenses their clients are charged with. That's what this campaign is really about — slowly convincing Americans that the estimated 11 million people who are in the United States without proper documents did nothing wrong, have nothing for which to apologize or make amends and should just be left alone.

Of course, the activists don't want Congress to leave the undocumented alone. They want lawmakers to grant them legal status, on the condition that illegal immigrants will do whatever is necessary to right the wrong that, the activists insist, they never committed.

Welcome to Wonderland. I'll be your guide. Not a week goes by that I don't get an email from someone urging me to stop using the “I-word.” Yeah, that's not going to happen.

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