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The New York Times: No Advantage in Moving Away from Use of ‘Illegal Immigrant’

October 5, 2012   ·   0 Comments

Source: Latin Times

Drop the I Word

By Latin Times Staff Writer:

Helen F. Chavez, widow of Cesar Chavez, has called on the New York Times to "stop using ethnic or racial stereotypes."

Chavez said she wants the media giant to use the word "undocumented" instead of "illegal" when referring to farm workers and other Latinos [and immigrants].

In an online petition, Chavez wrote about her involvement with the United Farm Workers.

"Back in 1962, farm workers were treated as though we were agricultural tools," Chavez wrote. "One grower called us 'rented slaves.' Working in the fields, I remember we were called 'wetbacks,' 'dirty Mexicans'-and worse. It was common then in parts of our country for African Americans to also be degraded by those who called them the 'n' word or used stereotypes because of their skin color or who they were."

Chavez said "farm workers and many other immigrants still do important work other American workers won't do, for low pay, and miserable conditions" and instead of thanking all them for their work, "they are often called names-like illegal immigrant."

The New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan is responsible for responding to complaints and comments from the public and monitoring the paper's journalistic practices and she said after much meetings and research, she said she sees "no advantage for Times readers in a move away from the paper's use of the phrase 'illegal immigrant.'"

"It is clear and accurate; it gets its job done in two words that are easily understood," she wrote in an Oct. 2 blog post. "The same cannot be said of the most frequently suggested alternatives - 'unauthorized,' 'immigrants without legal status,' 'undocumented.'

However, Chavez said the term is "right."

"It is no longer acceptable to call people names or use stereotypes because of skin color or who people are," Chavez said. "Why should we tolerate farm workers and other Latinos being treated this way? Some day not long from now people will look back and ask, 'How could people call other people names like illegal?'"

Sullivan said the paper's use of the word is "not a judgment on immigration policy or on the various positions surrounding immigration reform, nor is it meant to be uncaring about the people to whom the words apply."

"Just as 'illegal tenant' in a real estate story is brief and descriptive, so is 'illegal immigrant,'" she said. :In neither case is there an implication that those described that way necessarily have committed a crime, although in some cases they may have. The Times rightly forbids the expressions 'illegals' and 'illegal aliens.'"

According to an ABC News repors, in September, a non-profit founded by Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist, activist, and undocumented immigrant, began monitoring the use of the phrase "illegal immigrant" in the media.

"Right now, my two main targets, and I say that politely, are going to be The New York Times and the Associated Press," Vargas told reporters after his keynote address at the 2012 Online News Association Conference and Awards Banquet. "Ironically, describing an immigrant as 'illegal' is legally inaccurate," he said. "Being in a country without proper documents is a civil offense, not a criminal one."

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