On Tuesday, April 23, 2013 The Applied Research Center (APC) and The Drop the I-Word Campaign joined with activists, including Fernando Chavez, attorney and eldest son of Cesar Chavez, and Jose Antonio Vargas, award-winning journalist and founder of Define American, to deliver petitions signed by 70,000 people to the New York Times urging them to stop using the term, “illegal” from their news stories when referring to individuals. Mr. Chavez, Jose Antonio Vargas, the ARC and a coalition of supporters and activists delivered the petitions to Jill Abramson’s office, the executive editor of the NY Times. The petition was started by Helen Chavez, Fernando Chavez’ mother and widow of Cesar Chavez.
The petitions were delivered only a few weeks after the Associated Press announced their decision to drop the dehumanizing and inaccurate term from describing individuals and would instead only use the word “to refer to an action.”
We feel the term is provocative, dehumanizing, and racially charged. It is also imprecise and inaccurate. The term does not take into account the variety of reasons a person is undocumented; many came here legally and have overstayed visas, were brought here as children, or overstayed fleeing persecution. It creates the stereotyping of a group of individuals, mostly people of color, and centers the immigration debate around border control, when borders are not the issue. In an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, Rinku Sen, the ARC’s Executive Director and President, said it best. It is an “imprecise term that is applied in a blanket way,” and we feel it needs to change.
A few hours after the petitions were delivered, Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards, who oversees The Times’ style manual, made an announcement that the Times updated its policies. Unfortunately, it would continue to use the word “illegal” to describe “someone who enters, lives in or works in the United States without proper legal authorization.” It encourages reporters and editors to “consider alternatives when appropriate to explain the specific circumstances of the person in question, or to focus on actions.”
The AP announcement earlier this month was a victory, and we can only hope that more major news sources, like the New York Times and the LA Times “get with the times” and drop the i-word.
Rebecca Centeno is the Acting Director of Deep Dish TV, a non-profit media based organization providing local and global community members a venue for their work via satellite and cable television channels, Internet, & DVD distribution. She is an active member and advocate of community media, a past Paper Tiger TV collective member, and a Certified Producer at Manhattan Neighborhood Network (Manhattan’s Public Access Television Station). Her personal documentary work deeply focuses on socially relevant issues and on giving voice to the underrepresented and unheard.