To be ‘il­le­gal’ or not to be: That is the mod­ern news­room ques­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JEN­NIFER HARPER

Il­le­gal: It has be­come the dreaded “I-word” at many news or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Much of the press has shunned the terms “il­le­gal alien” or “il­le­gal im­mi­grant” to de­scribe Ing­mar Guandique, re­cently charged by po­lice and fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors in the 2001 slay­ing of Wash­ing­ton in­tern Chan­dra Levy.

The des­ig­na­tion of Guandique — who en­tered the U.S. il­le­gally in 2000, was con­victed of two non­fa­tal at­tacks on women and in­car­cer­ated — has reignited a de­bate over whether a per­son’s im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus is rel­e­vant to the story. Jour­nal­ists also are de­bat­ing whether the words “il­le­gal” and “im­mi­grant” are too loaded to use in an al­ready emo­tion­ally charged story. And maybe even racist.

The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of His­panic Jour­nal­ists has long cau­tioned jour­nal­ists against us­ing the word “il­le­gal” in copy and head­lines. The prac­tice is “de­hu­man­iz­ing” and “stereotypes un­doc­u­mented peo­ple who are in the United States as hav­ing com­mit­ted a crime,” said Joseph Tor­res, the group’s pres­i­dent.

That has not pre­vented Fox News com­men­ta­tor Bill O’Reilly from re­peat­edly call­ing Guandique an “il­le­gal alien,” though Fox used plain old “Sal- vado­ran im­mi­grant” in its news cov­er­age. Guandique has been called “Sal­vado­ran im­mi­grant,” “in­car­cer­ated felon,” “sus­pect” and “jailed at­tacker” in as­sorted ac­counts.

“Too many jour­nal­ists don’t want to pro­vide am­mu­ni­tion to those who want stricter im­mi­gra­tion laws, so avoid con­nect­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants to ev­i­dence which will bol­ster the ar­gu­ment that il­le­gals cause harm,” said Brent Baker of the Me­dia Re­search Cen­ter.

“So, when po­lice charge an il­le­gal im­mi­grant with mur­der­ing Chan­dra Levy, re­porters for CBS, CNN and AP be­nignly de­scribe him as a ‘Sal­vado­ran im­mi­grant’ or as sim­ply ‘a la­borer from El Sal­vador,’ ” Mr. Baker said.

USA To­day, the Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner and The Wash­ing­ton Times, how­ever, re­ferred to Guandique as an “il­le­gal im­mi­grant.”

“We as­pire to give our read­ers as much ac­cu­rate and rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion as pos­si­ble. Ing­mar Guandique’s im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus and his en­tire crim­i­nal his­tory fell within our def­i­ni­tion of re­port­ing as near as pos­si­ble the whole truth. We saw no rea­son to cen­sor our­selves or deny in­for­ma­tion to our read­ers,” said Michael Hedges, manag­ing ed­i­tor of the Ex­am­iner.

“The sug­ges­tion that im­mi­gra- tion sta­tus some­how is ir­rel­e­vant or should be treated like race in a crime story seems flawed. Be­ing white or black or His­panic or Asian isn’t a crime. En­ter­ing the coun­try il­le­gally is,” said John Solomon, ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of The Times.

“If a sus­pect en­tered the coun­try il­le­gally and then com­mit­ted a crime, as is al­leged in the Levy case, it is rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion to the reader. If the il­le­gal im­mi­grant hadn’t got­ten into the coun­try, he or she might not have been in a po­si­tion to com­mit the crime,” Mr. Solomon said.

The Wash­ing­ton Post, which has pro­duced ex­ten­sive cov­er­age of the case in the past year, of­ten opted for the term “Sal­vado­ran day la­borer,” though the pa­per does not for­bid its jour­nal­ists from des­ig­nat­ing im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.

“We don’t have any such pol­icy. Our view is that any ref­er­ence to some­one’s im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus, em­ploy­ment, race, eth­nic­ity, na­tion­al­ity or other char­ac­ter­is­tic should be rel­e­vant, and add con­text and un­der­stand­ing for read­ers. We are aware of the de­bate about whether de­scrib­ing the Chan­dra Levy sus­pect as an ‘il­le­gal im­mi­grant’ is scare­mon­ger­ing, and we’ve dis­cussed it and be­lieve we’ve stuck to our prin­ci­ple,” said ed­i­to­rial spokes­woman Kris Co­ratti.

Al­though Guandique en­tered the coun­try il­le­gally, he was el­i­gi­ble for “tem­po­rary pro­tected sta­tus” granted by Pres­i­dent Bush to Sal­vado­rans who had been in the U.S. be­fore Fe­bru­ary 2001. Guandique had filed for that sta­tus and re­ceived autho­riza­tion to re­side and work in the U.S. while his ap­pli­ca­tion was pend­ing. His re­quest ul­ti­mately was de­nied.

“This is a very com­pli­cated mat­ter. The goal is to make sure that jour­nal­ists are spe­cific and pre­cise in the use of words like ‘il­le­gal,’ ‘im­mi­grant’ and ‘un­docu- mented.’ It gets com­plex be­cause dif­fer­ent news or­ga­ni­za­tions have dif­fer­ent poli­cies, and jour­nal­ists them­selves in­ter­pret those poli­cies,” said Robert Steele, a me­dia ethi­cist at the Poyn­ter In­sti­tute.

“There is a wide­spread and I be­lieve log­i­cal ar­gu­ment that the broad use of cer­tain terms in dis­re­spect­ful. The press should be par­tic­u­larly cau­tious and con­ser­va­tive in our use of the term ‘alien.’ It should only be used when re­fer­ring to cer­tain spe­cific laws,” he added.

“Our style is to use ‘il­le­gal im­mi­grant,’ rather than ‘un­doc­u­mented worker’ or ‘il­le­gal alien,’ for those who have en­tered the coun­try il­le­gally,” said Dar­rell Chris­tian, ed­i­tor of the As­so­ci­ated Press style­book.

“Based on Web­ster´s def­i­ni­tions, ‘im­mi­grant’ is a broader term. ‘Alien’ is a res­i­dent who beats po­lit­i­cal al­le­giance to an­other coun­try; ‘im­mi­grant’ is some­one who comes to an­other coun­try to set­tle, whether legally or il­le­gally. Not all non-U.S. cit­i­zens liv­ing in the United States would be con­sid­ered work­ers, un­doc­u­mented or not,” Mr. Chris­tian said.

The most re­cent AP cov­er­age of the Levy case did not ex­am­ine the le­gal­ity of Guandique’s im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus, and refers to him as a “Sal­vado­ran im­mi­grant,” “in­mate” and “con­vict.”

The jailed la­borer in ques­tion: Ing­mar Guandique

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.