As a reporter who has written numerous stories on immigration-related themes, I have always preferred to employ the term "undocumented immigrant" to the far more explosive and, to my mind, tilted "illegal immigrant."
Immigration activist Mark Alvarez noted on his Facebook page today that Associated Press has decided that its previous preference for using illegal immigrant to describe someone in the United States illegally is to change. Reporters should only use illegal when describing an action—i.e., illegal immigration—not an individual. An individual, it would appear according to the AP, cannot be illegal.
You can read the AP's rationalization here.
But my preference for undocumented immigrant also comes in for criticism. Undocumented immigrant is wrong, AP says, because that implies they have no documents upon their person, when in all likelihood any individual is bound to have some documents relating to their day-to-day existence. Even if they are in the United States illegally, they will probably have their passport from their country of origin hidden away somewhere, I guess the argument would go.
AP suggests instead of either, use "living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission." Only use illegal immigrant or undocumented immigrant in direct quotes. It also states that one shouldn't use "an illegal," "illegals," "illegal alien" or "undocumented," again unless in quotes.
Oh, and when we say he or she entered the country illegally, AP says we should specify in what manner they entered and from which country they came.
Rhetoric in the immigration debate is always charged, so, if nothing else, it would be great to see the use of the phrase "illegal immigrant" fade from view. But, I fear in Utah that's not something we can hope to see overnight, if at all. Like guns, Utahns tend to cling tenaciously to their notions of the folks who are here without legal permission.