A CNN anchor said “illegal immigrant” on air. Here’s why that matters.

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A CNN anchor said “illegal immigrant” on air. Here’s why that matters.

Sign the petition, and ask that CNN drop “illegal immigrant” from its editorial guidelines After the Supreme Court’s 4-4 split decision on expanded DACA and DAPA, CNN’s Don Lemon explained the significance of the verdict on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon. He said, “This case was …

Sign the petition, and ask that CNN drop “illegal immigrant” from its editorial guidelines

After the Supreme Court’s 4-4 split decision on expanded DACA and DAPA, CNN’s Don Lemon explained the significance of the verdict on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon.

He said, “This case was about the parents of so-called ‘DREAMers,’ the children born in the U.S. of illegal immigrant parents.”

Lemon’s use of the word “illegal immigrant” is reflective of CNN’s preference to allow employees to use the phrase, as evidenced by past occurrences with Anderson Cooper, Ashleigh Banfield, and Jake Tapper. The use of the phrase “illegal immigrants” is considered to be inaccurate by authorities within the news media. In April of 2013, the Associated Press updated to their style book, declaring that “illegal” should only be used to describe actions, not individuals. (Illegal immigration can be used, but not illegal immigrants).

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Geraldine Moriba, CNN’s VP of Diversity and Inclusion has commented on this criticism in the past, and has said that CNN’s policy dictates that, “the word ‘illegal’ should never be used as a standalone noun to refer to individuals with documented or undocumented immigration status.” The logic does not appear to extend to the term “illegal immigrants,” and she has not responded to requests for clarification by the Huffington Post.

This isn’t an indication that the network is biased in its coverage; rather, it suggests a lack of knowledge of the issue, as further demonstrated by Lemon’s report.

Lemon goes on to state that DAPA would have benefited the parents of “DREAMers.” While “DREAMers” is not a word that has a legal definition, it has historically only described people who are undocumented Americans, specifically young people who entered the country before they turned 18. Therefore, to describe DAPA as “about the parents of DREAMers” is incorrect, because DAPA largely applies to the parents of citizens, or legal residents, not the parents of undocumented immigrants.

While familiar phrases like “illegal immigrants” and “DREAMers” may allow newscasters to quickly inform their audiences of a law’s impact, this example proves how dangerous this kind of shorthand is. Not only does Lemon assign a broad assumption of guilt, but he misleads the public about the nature of these executive actions. DAPA was intended to be a temporary way protect the parents of citizens from being deported; it is not a path to citizenship.

Define American encourages all journalists and news organizations to sign our #WordsMatter pledge, and show a commitment to portraying accurate and humane representations of all immigrants in the media. When we use words like “illegal” to describe people, and not actions, we are reducing a person’s life to a singular moment: equating migrating without permission to a denial of humanity.

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