Associated Press stylebook bans use of the phrase 'illegal immigrant'

News agency Associated Press has changed its stylebook to stop journalists describing people as “illegal immigrants”.

The new rules say journalists can only describe people’s actions – including living in or entering a country illegally – as illegal, not the people themselves.

AP senior vice president and executive editor Kathleen Carroll said that people “from many walks of life” had been included in the decision-making process.  

The decision came about after discussions over mental health patients. Carroll explained that reporters were to say “someone was "diagnosed with schizophrenia" instead of schizophrenic, for example.

“That discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to 'illegal immigrant' again,” she added: “We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance.”

The Press Complaints Commission put out guideance discouraging use of the phrase "illegal asylum seeker" in 2003. 

Here is the new AP Stylebook entry in full:

Illegal immigration: Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegals or undocumented.

Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.

Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.

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