In Ruling Out 'Illegal Immigrant,' AP Bans a Long-Favored Search Term

Niraj Chokshi
April 3, 2013

Expect to read fewer stories about "illegal immigrants.” The Associated Press on Tuesday announced that it was dropping the term from its stylebook, which countless newsrooms use as their de facto style bible. In so doing, AP has banned one of the more popular search terms used to describe the roughly 11 million people living in the United States illegally.

AP had previously ruled out using “undocumented” to describe the group, and Tuesday's decision was inspired by a broader movement at the newswire: putting an end to labeling people altogether. “We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance. So we have,” Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said in a statement.

The new entry on illegal immigration now reads: “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.”

One thing's certain: AP is certainly not responding to popular usage. “Illegal immigrant” has consistently been a favored search term over the past five years compared with some of the common alternatives, according to Google Trends: