Tom Kent, deputy managing editor for standards and production, wrote that the AP doesn't use terms like “undocumented immigrants” or “unauthorized immigrants” because they "can make a person’s illegal presence in the country appear to be a matter of minor paperwork. Many illegal immigrants aren’t 'undocumented' at all; they may have a birth certificate and passport from their home country, plus a U.S. driver’s license, Social Security card or school ID. What they lack is the fundamental right to be in the United States. Without that right, their presence is illegal."
To concerns that the term connotes a criminal violation, not a civil one, Kent wrote, "Both are laws, and violating any law is an illegal act (we do not say 'criminal immigrant')." And to the notion that “illegal immigrant” suggests the individual's "very existence is illegal," he write, "We don’t read the term this way. We refer routinely to illegal loggers, illegal miners, illegal vendors and so forth. Our language simply means that a person is logging, mining, selling, etc., in violation of the law — just as illegal immigrants have immigrated in violation of the law." The AP Stylebook advises not to use terms like “illegals” and “illegal alien.”
Kent wrote that “illegal immigrant” is not accurate in some cases, "such as when referring to a child who was brought to the U.S. by parents who came here illegally," writes Mallary Jean Tenore of The Poynter Institute. "Kent doesn’t offer specific examples of when staffers should use 'illegal immigrant,' but he does offer some best practices, including this one: 'Be specific about nationalities. Don’t let terms like "illegal immigrants" be used synonymously with one nationality or ethnic group.' The AP Stylebook updated its entry on 'illegal immigrant' last year to address the nuances of the term." Tenore notes that some news organizations no longer use the term, and why. (Read more)