“Anchor baby,” “alien,” “illegal,” “undocumented,” “amnesty,” “path to citizenship” – The language of immigration reform is striking in its power to frame the debate over how immigrants who are in the U.S. without the proper documentation, become fully integrated into the nation. The evolution of that language has been rapid and those who have not kept up with the changes have suffered the consequences. The prime example is Mitt Romney whose reliance on “self-deportation” was deemed a major factor in his failed presidential campaign. More recently, several leading news organizations, including the Associated Press and USA Today have eliminated the phrase “illegal immigrants” from their style books. At the same time, Karthick Ramakrishnan and Jennifer Merolla assert that the term “illegal immigrants” has no measurable negative effect on the perceptions of U.S. citizens with regard to the immigration debate. Clearly, the public debate over the term has led news organizations to perceive it as offensive even as public opinion is evolving.
Ramakrishan and Merolla argue that a more pressing issue is the way the policy debate is framed. Their study showed that voters neutral on immigration legalization, tended to view the issue in a more negative light when the word “amnesty” was used. “Amnesty,” often associated with giving undocumented immigrants a “free pass,” has lead those in the midst of the debate to search for a more felicitous term such as “pathway to citizenship.” Amongst conservatives looking to embrace Latino voters without alienating a traditional constituency that rejects citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the focus is on border security and other enforcement measures.
What are your thoughts?
Have news organizations eliminated the use of “illegal immigrant” at a time when it no longer carries a negative connotation for most U.S. voters?
If the notion of amnesty for undocumented immigrants is unpalatable to U.S. voters, what terms might be more appropriate?