Post’s policy on use of term “illegal immigrant” makes sense

I posted The Denver Post’s policy regarding the use of the term “illegal immigrant” last week.

As you can see here, The Post favors the use of “illegal immigrant” over “undocumented immigrant” but accepts “undocumented immigrant” as less precise synonym.

That makes sense to me when it comes to describing the group of millions of people who entered this country illegally. I agree with the New York Times‘ reasoning on this.

But when it comes to an individual, I wouldn’t use any label (illegal or undocumented) unless there was actual factual evidence that the individual in question was, in fact, an illegal immigrant.

This approach would be in keeping with what Post City Editor Dana Coffield told me last year, that The Post only refers to someone’s immigration status “when it becomes part of and material to the public record.”

This seems really obvious, but it wasn’t spelled out in The Post’s published policy.

I asked Denver Post Politics Editor Chuck Plunkett about this, and he more-or-less affirmed the policy Coffield articulated:

Plunkett: If we are talking about an individual, then it would have to be a judgment call based on information that we have. If the person admits she is here illegally, or if police say that is the case, that’s pretty straightforward. Otherwise it gets murkier. My answer has to be that we would deal with the description on a case-by-case basis. Dana Coffield’s answer to you last year follows the same kind of logic that I would follow.

So I’m thinking it should be really rare for The Post to describe a person as an “illegal immigrant” or an “undocumented immigrant” unless that status is confirmed by an official source, on the record, or the person has stated this themselves. You can dream up exceptions, like an off-the-record source used in an unusual situation, but you wouldn’t expect to see this very often.

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