Undocumented or Illegal?

August 29, 2008

Relatives of Francisco Pantaleƒ³n protest at University of Illinois Medical Center. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)We reported this week about a family that asked for an independent autopsy to rule out medical negligence in the death of a relative whom we identified as "an undocumented Mexican immigrant." Our story led to a call from a listener in west suburban Oak Park who said it's wrong to identify people as "undocumented" if they lack legal status to be in the United States. The fitting term, she said, is "illegal." This topic has come up before and warrants a poll among our listeners/visitors (below). But first, some background. The U.S. government and many pro-enforcement activist groups routinely use "illegal alien," while many immigrant groups prefer "undocumented immigrant." The Associated Press Stylebook basically splits the difference and recommends "illegal immigrant." Many news organs, including the New York Times, follow the AP rule. Others don't. The Washington Post and Chicago Tribune use both "illegal immigrant" and "undocumented immigrant." The San Francisco Chronicle uses those phrases and, in context, "undocumented worker." A search of Chicago Public Radio's archives suggests our approach in recent months has resembled the Chronicle's, though occasionally we've also used "illegal alien." Before voting, consider the arguments at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Organization of News Ombudsmen and illegalaliens.us. After voting, please post a comment to explain your thinking.

UPDATE: Thanks for your responses- this poll is now closed. [poll id="7"]