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Opening Arguments

Call me Mr. Sensitive

The New York Times has joined The Associated Press in getting all icky-gooey over "illegal immigrant." From its stylebook:

illegal immigrant may be used to describe someone who enters, lives in or works in the United States without proper legal authorization. But be aware that in the debate over immigration, some people view it as loaded or offensive. Without taking sides or resorting to euphemism, consider alternatives when appropriate to explain the specific circumstances of the person in question, or to focus on actions: who crossed the border illegally; who overstayed a visa; who is not authorized to work in this country.

Unauthorized is also an acceptable description, though it has a bureaucratic tone. Undocumented is the term preferred by many immigrants and their advocates, but it has a flavor of euphemism and should be used with caution outside quotations. Illegal immigration, because it describes the issue rather than an individual, is less likely than illegal immigrant to be seen as troubling.

Take particular care in describing people whose immigration status is complex or subject to change – for example, young people brought to this country as children, many of whom are eligible for temporary reprieves from deportation under federal policies adopted in 2012.

Do not use illegal as a noun, and avoid the sinister-sounding alien.

By all means, let's avoid the sin of "taking sides or resorting to euphemism" as we stay sensitive to terms some see as "loaded or offensive" andbe particularly careful about people whose "status is complex or subject to change" and avoid the "sinister-sounding alien" like the plague.

I propose we start being this sensitive about all people engaged in, um "illegal" or "unauthorized" activities. You know, "bank robbing," because it describes the issue rather than an individual, is less likely than "bank robber" to be seen as troubling. And while "persons who make unauthorized withdrawals" is preferred by many supporters of the bank-robbing community, it has a flavor of euphemism.