TUCSON, Ariz. – The Tucson Citizen newspaper is changing the terminology it uses to refer to undocumented migrants, according to editor Michael Chihak. The Citizen will stop using the words “illegal” and “illegals” as nouns.
“Instead, now we will use different words – ‘migrant’ is our foremost candidate,” Chihak said. “We also will stop presuming that people are in the United States illegally unless that determination has been made in the judicial system.”
The policy change was announced after activists from human rights groups in Tucson bombarded Chihak with letters of protest and met with him in person at his headquarters. Chihak had stated that he often inserted “illegal” in journalists’ articles after submission and used the term as a noun in headlines “because it fits” so nicely. “It is the journalistic style of our paper,” Chihak had explained.
In response to Chihak’s invitation to comment about the newspaper’s use of the term “illegals,” Lil Wynne Avila wrote, “The connotations are negative, slanted, and irrefutably loaded with imagery that I would not think a rational news operation would deem responsible to present.”
“People are not illegal. The headline use of ‘illegals’ rejects any presumption of innocence,” wrote Jack Cohen-Joppa, editor of the Nuclear Resistor. Rev. John Fife said, “It is an assumption not possible to be known until proven in court,” and Joseph Bernick asked, “Is this just another attempt to dehumanize Third World immigrants?”
Still another reader, Dereka Rushbrook, wrote, “This characterization is generally irrelevant to the story and serves to mask the complexity of the multiple processes (U.S. border policy, globalization, neoliberal economic policies, family ties, history, etc.) that lead border crossers to undertake these journeys.”
“Responsible journalists having done their homework should know that labels historically have served to dehumanize certain populations, to control them, and to justify any harm or misfortune that befalls them,” wrote Anna Ochoa O’Leary, a professor at the University of Arizona.
Jose Pac from Guatemala had come to Tucson five days earlier to claim the bodies of two women from his hometown who died while trying to cross the Arizona desert. “They only wanted to work,” he said. “It is ugly to see people called illegals.”
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