How Immigrants Forced Media to Treat Them Like Humans in 2011

Mónica Novoa Dec 20, 2011

We launched the campaign to Drop the I-Word in September of 2010 with a lot of love and a firm belief that we’re fighting to shift the conversation on immigration from an increasingly dangerous course to one that puts our higher values into practice. Our campaign is comprised of migrants, allies and people who believe that protecting humanity is urgent today, and for our future. This year we were joined by an increasing amount of journalists who believe in professional standards, including respect for the communities they cover, due process guaranteed by the constitution, and accuracy.

2011 was a big year. The New York Times, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, the Society for Professional Journalists and others responded to the call to drop the i-word. Though we have a way to go, we have moved the needle in our favor.

The Applied Research Center launched the Drop the I-Word campaign because it accomplishes very important goals that we will further in 2012 driven by the community calling for change. At the same time that we get rid of the i-word, and push back on related language that harms immigrants and our values, we carry out our mission to popularize racial justice and prepare people to fight for it.

Rejecting the i-word means we will not prop up racist policies and allow for millions of children to grow up scared and feel less-than, or for millions of other children to learn to use the language of hate. There’s a tide turning against use of the i-word in all its forms. And while we have work to do before major institutions drop the i-word completely, the conversation is happening now in a way that it was not before we launched. Here are some 2011 highlights that provide a great foundation for Drop the I-Word to get some big wins in 2012.

  • The LA Times reacted to readers’ questions about the i-word, asserting that the paper’s style guide is parallel to that of the Associated Press and the New York Times.
  • Drop the I-Word was endorsed by the national UNITY journalistʼs alliance of over 10,000 members comprised of the Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Native American Journalists Association and most recently, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association.
  • The 7,800-member Society of Professional Journalists passed a resolution at the Excellence in Journalism convention in New Orleans to Drop the I-Word. The resolution discontinued use of the term “illegal alien”, and suggested continued discussion to re-evaluate the implications of the use of “illegal immigrant.” The passing of the resolution opened up the conversation for the term to be scrutinized in this mainstream professional journalist organization, and in every media organization across the country.

  • The Associated Press changes the description of the term “illegal immigrant,” adding that “living in the country without legal permission” is an acceptable variation of “illegal immigrant.” Along with the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC) and, we launched a call that prompted hundreds of people to submit suggestions for the 2012 AP Stylebook not to include the term “illegal immigrant.” We participated in the 2012 AP Stylebook Twitter chat to discuss suggested changes. While over a third of the comments were related to the call to Drop the I-Word, the Associated Press, issued a standard statement that they don’t use the i-word as a noun.

  • The American Heritage Dictionary changed the definition of the term “anchor baby” and issued an apology, not long after our Q&A discussing racial implications and policy context related to the term.

  • Gustavo Arellano’s popular Ask A Mexican Column touted DTIW and was published in the Phoenix New-Times, Huffpost, OCWeekly, Dallas Observer, The Village Voice, Houston Press, Denver Westword, Seattle Weekly, Flagstaff Live.

  • The Daily Pennsylvanian has not been using the i-word, and the Connecticut papers — New Haven Register, Middletown Press and Register Citizen — implemented a new policy based on the SPJ resolution, and will no longer use the i-word.

  • United for the Dream launches a campaign for the Charlotte Observer to Drop the I-Word.

Stay tuned for more news about Drop the I-Word and the Associated Press and Charlotte Observer campaigns. 2012 will be huge for Drop the I-Word! For us it is enough that people don’t want to be known this way and that the term is racist and dehumanizing. But it’s also inaccurate to describe people as “illegal” as if it’s legal terminology, which it isn’t. We are committed to ongoing public education and your presence, conversations and advocacy make all the difference. Let’s make 2012 great! History is on our side.

This article was origianally published by Colorlines.

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