Networks Divided On Use of Term ‘Illegal’

By Mark Joyella 

103114_illegalFlip from one channel to another, and the language used to describe the immigration debate will likely be different. Fusion’s Felix Salmon has broken down exactly where major media organizations stand on use of the phrase most often described as offensive–and banned by many newsrooms–“illegal immigrant”, finding a range of policies, from “never” to “preferred usage.”

Salmon argues there’s good reason to avoid the term:

The reason is simple: People who speed aren’t “illegal drivers,” nor are people who fall behind on their taxes “illegal filers.” Even soldiers fighting against the United States without belonging to a formal national army are generally referred to as “unlawful” rather than “illegal” combatants. The use of the term “illegal” to refer to a person is a usage which is confined to exactly one group of people: Migrants. As a result, “illegal,” when used as a noun, always means immigrants — people whose only crime is the victimless pursuit of liberty and prosperity.

According to Salmon’s breakdown, NBC, ABC, Fusion, CNN, and Univision refuse to use the term, while CBS allows its use:

In July, CBS News ran a story under the headline “Is the surge of illegal child immigrants a national security threat?” — as though simply being a child, with the wrong paperwork, is enough to make one an illegal person.

While Salmon’s survey does not include Fox News, a search of the term at returns plenty of hits for “illegal immigrant”, including this story posted today, as well as frequent use of the shorthand noun “illegal”, as in the graphic above.

Here’s Fusion’s “Illegal Index”: