Will the revitalized immigration debate change the language politicians use?

Organizations and advocates including journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, the publication Colorlines, and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists have tried to convince mainstream media to drop the term “illegal immigrant,” saying it criminalizes people rather than their actions.

And now a center-right political organization is pushing conservatives to do the same.

The Hispanic Leadership Network sent around a “Dos and Don’ts of Immigration Reform” to politicians this week. It contains common-sense advice for those looking to discuss immigration without offending the sensibilities of Latino voters, 90 percent of whom support the DREAM Act and 85 percent of whom favor a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, according to a Fox News Latino poll conducted last year.

“Do use ‘undocumented immigrant’ when referring to those here without documentation,” the memo recommends. “Don’t use the word ‘illegals’ or ‘aliens.’ Don’t use the term ‘anchor baby.’”

The Hispanic Leadership Network has a compelling reason to urge politicians to adopt such language when discussing immigration: the same Fox News Latino poll found that 46 percent of Hispanic voters find the term “illegal immigrant” offensive. There are also new questions about the term’s accuracy, now that a class of undocumented immigrants is permitted to stay legally in the United States under President Obama’s June directive to defer deportation for childhood arrivals.

The message falls on deaf ears for some. Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, who backs stricter immigration enforcement, dismissed the suggestion on Twitter:


Mark Krikorian
Inexcusable RT : GOP memo encourages politicians to use "undocumented" by

The point was also lost on congressmen like Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), who is actively pushing away the Latino vote, or immigration hardliner Steve King (R-Iowa) who filed legislation to stop what he calls “anchor babies” in the first week of this year’s Congress.

Marco Rubio is one politician who seems to have taken notice. Since the Florida senator assumed a prominent role for the GOP on immigration, he appears to have dropped the term “illegal immigrant” in favor of “undocumented.”

The Huffington Post adopted the term “undocumented immigrant” to refer to people in 2008.

Here’s some other suggestions from the Hispanic Leadership Network memo:

When engaging in conversation or doing an interview on immigration reform:

Do acknowledge that “Our current immigration system is broken and we need to fix it”
Don’t begin with “We are against amnesty”

When talking about a solution for the millions here without documentation who could qualify to get in line first with a temporary visa, then legal residence and finally citizenship:

Do use the phrase “earned legal status”
Don’t use the phrase “pathway to citizenship”

When addressing securing our borders:

Do use the wording “enforcement of our borders includes more border patrol, technology, and building a fence where it makes sense”
Don’t use phrases like “send them all back”, “electric fence”, “build a wall along the entire border”

When addressing amnesty and earned legal status:

Do acknowledge that the true meaning of amnesty is to pardon without any penalty
Don’t label earned legal status as amnesty
Don’t characterize all Hispanics as undocumented and all undocumented as Hispanics

When broadly addressing reforms:

Do acknowledge that President Obama broke his promise and failed to propose any immigration reform for five years, while using this issue as a political wedge
Do talk about the issues you support like overhauling the bureaucratic visa system, creating a viable temporary worker program, a workable e-verify system, and border security
Don’t focus on amnesty as a tenet of immigration reform
Don't use President Reagan's immigration reform as an example applicable today

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Lamar Smith (R-TX)

    The former head of the House Judiciary Committee, which handles immigration legislation, <a href="http://www.kpbs.org/news/2012/nov/25/despite-talk-immigration-overhaul-not-a-guarantee/">is a longtime opponent of a pathway to citizenship</a>. Though some 57 percent of Americans support offering a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/14/lamar-smith-immigration_n_2472063.html?utm_hp_ref=politics">Smith says the proposal would have a hard time passing the House</a>.

  • Steve King (R-IA)

    Rep. Steve King, who is vice chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, has introduced bills to make English the official language of the United States and end birthright citizenship.

  • Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)

    Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who takes over for Lamar Smith as head of the House Judiciary Committee, <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2012/12/06/immigration-hardliner-bob-goodlatte-gets-bigger-role-on-divisive-issue/">opposes offering a pathway</a> to citizenship for the undocumented, saying it would reward illegal behavior.

  • John Boehner (R-OH)

    Boehner famously called a 2007 bipartisan immigration bill that offered a <a href="http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21567106-election-drubbing-changes-minds-time-its-different">pathway to citizenship for the undocumented "a piece of shit."</a> It's not clear whether he plans to stick by those words. After the election he said he thought he could find common ground with the White House on immigration reform, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/09/john-boehner-immigration-citizenship_n_2102506.html">though he wouldn't say whether</a> he'd support a pathway to citizenship.

  • John Cornyn (R-TX)

    Sen. John Cornyn, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Politics/gop-senator-cornyn-border-security/story?id=18187299">made clear in a speech last week that he's not interested in a pathway to citizenship</a> -- just more border security.

  • Ted Cruz

    The first Latino U.S. Senator from Texas says he <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2012/08/01/what-does-ted-cruzs-victory-mean-for-texas-latinos/">"categorically opposes" a path to citizenship</a> for undocumented immigrants.