Last week, the 2018 AP Stylebook went on sale, and I gave you a peek at the guidance offered in its new “Polls and Surveys” chapter. This week, I highlight some of the Associated Press guidelines for writing accurately and dispassionately about another hot topic: immigration.
DREAM Act vs. DACA
The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) is a legislative bill that has yet to pass through either the House or Senate. It proposes to grant conditional permanent resident status to immigrants who live in the United States illegally but who arrived in the U.S. when they were still children. Because it has not passed through Congress or been signed by the president, it is not a law and should not be referred to as such.
DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — does have the force of law, but it never went through Congress. It’s an administrative program (but not an executive order) enacted during the Obama administration that is similar to the proposals outlined in the DREAM Act. Although it does not grant resident status to anyone living in the United States illegally, it does protect certain young foreign nationals from deportation and permits them to work.
“Dreamers” is a term many people use to refer to those who stand to benefit from either DACA or the DREAM Act, but the Associated Press warns journalists to put the term in quotation marks in all uses, to use the term sparingly — it doesn’t exactly depict an unbiased attitude about immigration legislation — and, for balance, to include some wording outlining the opposition to DACA and the DREAM Act.
Immigrants, Migrants, Asylum-Seekers, and Refugees
It should be common practice by now never to use illegal to refer to a person. People can perform illegal acts, and the term should be reserved to describe acts, like illegal immigration — but there is no such thing as an illegal person. This means you should also avoid the too-common phrase illegal immigrant. The Associated Press also recommends avoiding the terms alien and undocumented, offering wordier but more accurate options like an immigrant living in or entering a country illegally or without permission.
Take care choosing words to describe someone who leaves their home for another country, because there are sometimes subtle differences in meaning:
- Immigrants come to live in a new country for many different reasons.
- Refugees, however, are forced to leave their homes because of persecution, war, political upheaval, or natural disasters. In some cases — especially in the aftermath of a natural disaster — referring to a refugee as an immigrant may be misleading because immigrant is often understood to refer to someone looking for a long-term change of location and even new citizenship, whereas a refugee may simply be temporarily displaced.
- Asylum-seekers are those who have applied for asylum status. Some refugees are asylum-seekers, and some asylum-seekers are refugees, but the two terms are not interchangeable.
- Migrant is a more general term. It normally describes, to quote the AP Stylebook, “people who move from place to place for temporary work or economic advantage” — hence migrant worker — but it can also be used to describe people whose reasons for moving are unclear or to encompass a group that includes immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers.
When possible, more specificity is usually preferred to tell the whole story — “civilians fleeing the violence in Gondor,” for example, instead of “refugees from Middle-earth.”
Chain Migration (Avoid It)
The AP recommends avoiding the phrase chain migration unless it occurs in a quotation. It’s a loaded term for a longstanding U.S. program, officially called family-based immigration, that gives preference in immigration decisions to people who have relatives who are already U.S. citizens or legal residents.
To reiterate, family-based immigration is a current program of the U.S. State Department and not, as it sometimes seems in the news, an illegal or dubious scheme concocted by the immigrants themselves. Especially in stories where accusations are flying, that fact may need to be clarified for readers who only know what they hear from the people they already agree with.