MSNBC's Chris Hayes had a lengthy conversation on Sunday about whether or not journalists should use the term "illegal immigrant" in their news coverage.
Jose Antonio Vargas, the journalist whose admission that he is undocumented propelled him to a new career as an immigrant-rights activist, recently had a back-and-forth with Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of the New York Times, over whether that paper should continue to use the term. Sullivan ultimately concluded that the Times was right to use "illegal immigrant," in a column that prompted protest from some in the Latino media.
The Huffington Post uses the term "undocumented immigrant" in its coverage.
On Sunday's "Up," Hayes hosted Vargas, along with PBS host Maria Hinojosa, "On The Media" host Brooke Gladstone, and linguist John McWhorter for a discussion about the term's prevalence in the news.
Vargas said that using the term "underscores the largely simplistic nature in which the media talks about this issue."
"Our job as journalists is really being more descriptive in the way we use this term," he said.
Hayes pointed out that it is technically against the law to enter the country without documents. "We shouldn't say that 'undocumented' is neutral," he said.
"Do you know someone who's broken the law?" Hinojosa asked Hayes. "I don't think I know a single person who hasn't broken the law," he said. Hinojosa said that, even if a driver, taxpayer or father broke the law, they wouldn't be called "an illegal driver, an illegal taxpayer, and an illegal father" in the media.
She said that author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel was the first to advise her not to call people "illegal immigrants."
"He said, 'Because once you label a people 'illegal,' that is exactly what the Nazis did to Jews,'" she said. "You do not label a people 'illegal.' They have committed an illegal act. They are immigrants who crossed illegally. They are immigrants who crossed without papers. They are immigrants who crossed without permission. They are living in this country without permission. But they are not an illegal people."
Gladstone, though she said she supported the use of "undocumented," warned against letting people on either side of a political (rather than personal) argument try to get the media to use a term of their choosing.
"You have allowed them to win the argument before the argument even takes place," she said.
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