On Tuesday, the AP announced that it will no longer use the term “illegal immigrant.” In a blog post, Kathleen Carroll, the AP’s executive editor and senior vice president, 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.” Reflecting this idea that the term “illegal” should not refer to people, the AP has also changed the title of the Stylebook entry from “illegal immigrant” to “illegal immigration.”
The announcement was a victory for immigrants’ rights organizations like Define American and progressive news outlets like Colorlines. Much of the credit for pushing for the change goes to Jose Antonio Vargas, the founder of Define American and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and activist who came out as undocumented two years ago. Last September, Vargas publicly called on the AP and The New York Times to drop the term “illegal immigrant.”
“It was kind of inevitable. It was going to happen. It’s just a matter of when. I’m surprised it took this long,” Vargas said over the phone. But that inevitability doesn’t diminish its significance. “The Associated Press just humanized undocumented people in this country,” he said.