No human being is illegal.

Elie Wiesel

The accuracy of the words we use affects
how we understand our world.

Phrases such as “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien”  replace complex legal circumstances with an assumption of guilt. They effectively criminalize the personhood of migrants, instead of describing the legality of their actions. Being in the U.S. without proper documents is a civil offense, not a criminal one. Underscoring this, Supreme Court Justice  Anthony Kennedy has said: “As a general rule, it is not a crime for a movable alien to remain in the United States.”

The Associated Press writes in the AP Stylebook, “Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person.  Illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant.”

If describing the specifics of an individual’s immigration status is not possible (Do they qualify for DACA? Did they arrive here on a visa?), then alternatives such as “undocumented” or “unauthorized” offer options for neutral terminology.

Download the Fact Sheet

Make the #WordsMatter Pledge

As a representative of a media outlet, I pledge to use accurate
and modern language regarding undocumented immigrants and their families.

They Agree. #WordsMatter.



• The Associated Press

• Buzzfeed

• Fusion

• The Huffington Post

• Los Angeles Times

• Politico



• Univision

• USA Today

• Vox


• CTV - Prince George's County Community Television

• Chicago Tribune

• The Denver Post

• The Des Moines Register

• Al Día en América (Louisville, KY)

• Latino Lubbock Magazine (Lubbock, TX)

• NY1

• Tribuna Newspaper (CT)


• Carmen Almendarez

• Martin Berlanga | Telemundo

• Graham Brewer | Reporter, The Oklahoman

• Lilly Collette | Blogger

• Arthur Connor | Contributing Writer, Idyllwild Town Crier

• Troy Espera | Producer, Balitang America

• Mois Faion | Senior Researcher, Center for the Study of Democracy

• Richard Fazekas | Promotion Director, Rikkyroc Promociones

• Jerald Jamerson | The Relationship

• Dan Kowalski | Editor, Bender's Immigration Bulletin

• Mercedes Lackey | Freelance Author

• Sandra Mattson

• Unai Montes-Irueste | Founder, Our Place in History

• Kathy Parrent

• John de Clef Piñeiro, Esq. | The Peoples' Party

• Glenn Robinson | Executive Editor, CommunityVillageus.us

• Kia Sample | Host, The Kia Sample Show

• Robert Shook | Photojournalist, Rochester Institute of Technology

• Suzette Standring | Columnist, GateHouse Media

• Megan Strom | Columnist, La Prensa de Minnesota

• Ana M. Fores Tamayo | Founder, Adjunct Justice


• The Badger Herald, University of Wisconsin

• Cornell Sun, Cornell University

• The Yale Daily News, Yale University

• University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

• The Stanford Daily, Stanford University

• The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University

• University of California Los Angeles


• Sarah Wells | News Editor & Photo Editor, The Cedar Post

• Daniel Hamilton | Editor in Chief, HHSToday

• Alex Rand | Editor in Chief, The McClintock Guidon

• Saba Mashayekhi

• Austin Michael

• Juan Vasallo

• Alyssa Downer

• Eryn Ormesher | Editor in Chief, The Advocate

• Stephi Smith | News Editor, Mountlake Terrace High School Hawkeye

• Marianne Nacanaynay Smith | Reporter, Mountlake Terrace High School Hawkeye

• Morgan Donohue

• Katy Clanton

• Hannah Schoenbaum | Editor in Chief, Trident Magazine

• Jodi Parker | Copy Editor, Trident Magazine

• Andrew Young | Videographer Captain, Los Altos High School, The Talon

• Rylea Gillis | Sports Editor, Whitney Update

• Franco Vidal | Writer, The North Star

• Katie Peurrung | Photo Editor, Hanford Student Media

• Rachel Marquardt | Copy Editor, The Roar

• Hanan Begic | Co-Design Editor, Details Yearbook

• Sierra Makayla | Data Editor, The Chroncile

• Katie Kroeppler

• Claire Caldera | Layout Editor & Reporter, Beyond the Cave

• Alexis Sullivan | Editor in Chief, Inkwell

• Caitlyn Dolan | Photographer, Mountain Home High School

• Rachael Loughry

• Nicole Asbury | Editor in Chief, LV Junebug

• Rhianna McDaniel | Assistant Editor in Chief, LV Junebug

• Lauren Hawkins | Business Editor/Managing Editor, LV Junebug

• Jorge Grijalva | Writer and Opinions Editor, The Anchor, Port of Los Angeles High School Newspaper

• Aarushi Pant | Managing Editor, The Saga Newspaper

• Rachael Lizardi | Director/Writer, Airport High School

• Caitlin Williams

• Oluoma Obi | Copy Editor, Shawnee Mission North Indian Yearbook

• Logan Finney

• Veronica Liow | Multimedia Editor, The Cedar Post

• Kim Vinh | Adviser, Raven Report, Sequoia High School

• Grace Davis

• Maria Martinez, Assistant Editor, Musket


• The National Association of Hispanic Journalists

• The Filipino American Press Club of New York

Presidential Candidate Pledge


Hillary Clinton

Former U.S. Secretary of State, November 24, 2015

“The people at the heart of this issue are children, parents, families, DREAMers. They have names, and hopes and dreams that deserve to be respected. I’ve talked about undocumented immigrants hundreds of times and fought for years for comprehensive immigration reform. And I will continue to do so. We are a country built by immigrants and our diversity makes us stronger as a nation – it’s something to be proud of, celebrate, and defend.

Comment made in response to Telemundo Facebook Q&A


Martin O'Malley

Former Governor of Maryland, November 30th, 2015

“I have always called immigrants New Americans because that is what they are.  Words matter and remembering that we were all once strangers in a strange land and that the U.S. is made better in every generation by the arrival of New Americans, is central to my campaign and has been central to my life in public service.”


Bernie Sanders

U.S. Senator from Vermont, January 14th, 2016

“We cannot forget about the millions of aspiring Americans who continue to live in the shadows of our great nation, and the need to enact policies to unite them. We are made stronger by our immigrant heritage and no human being is illegal.”

Who's Next?

All presidential candidates were asked to commit to #WordsMatter, regardless of party affiliation. Define American does not endorse any candidate or party.

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