Chron drops the “i” bomb, again


Today’s article on the front page of the Chronicle’s Bay Area section doesn’t use  “illegals” in its actual story about undocumented students and in-state college fees.

But it does use it in its headline.

This headline-text disconnect suggests that Chron reporter Bob Egelko wasn’t part of the decision to run today’s “Tuition break for illegals targeted” headline.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s 2010, but some folks still don’t get what’s offensive about using the “i” word when referring to immigrants without paperwork—a situation that doesn’t make them “illegal,” no matter what right wing fear-mongers say.

As the National Association of Hispanic Journalists points out, in its guidelines for covering immigration, being here without paperwork is a civil violation, not a crime.

In an article published in September 2009, NAHJ said it was troubled with a growing trend in the news media to use the word “illegals” as shorthand for "illegal aliens".

“Using the word in this way is grammatically incorrect and crosses the line by criminalizing the person, not the action they are purported to have committed,” NAHJ stated, as it called on the media to never use “illegals” in headlines.

“Shortening the term in this way also stereotypes undocumented people who are in the United States as having committed a crime. Under current U.S. immigration law, being an undocumented immigrant is not a crime, it is a civil violation,” NAHJ continued. “Furthermore, an estimated 40 percent of all undocumented people living in the U.S. are visa overstayers, meaning they did not illegally cross the U.S. border. In addition, the association has always denounced the use of the degrading terms ‘alien’ and ‘illegal alien’ to describe undocumented immigrants because it casts them as adverse, strange beings, inhuman outsiders who come to the U.S. with questionable motivations. Aliens is a bureaucratic term that should be avoided unless used in a quote.”

I’m pretty sure there’d be an uproar if the Chron used the “n” word to describe black people or the “f” word to describe gays—unless they were quoting racists or homophobes. So, please, guys, get a clue and stop dropping the “i” word, even if it takes up less room in your headlines.


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