S. Leigh Thompson
Members of United 4 the Dream (U4TD), the youth group of the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte, North Carolina, have been leading a protest (rain or shine) outside the Charlotte Observer this week. We have partnered with U4TD as they lead a letter-writing campaign galvanizing the Drop the I-Word community in Charlotte and across the country to push back on the Observer’s use of the terms “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien.” Charlotte has the largest Latino community of all cities in North Carolina and will be the site of the Democratic National Convention in 2012.
Throughout 2011, reports of anti-immigrant bullying in schools have increased in the region, prompting the community to action. “We hope that the Charlotte Observer recognizes that we do not want to be called any form of ‘illegal,’” said United 4 The DREAM’s media chair Selene Rios. “It not only harms people individually, but the entire community of Charlotte.” The Campaign has gotten pledge signatures from local NPR station, WFAE’s Mike Collins, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts, City Council Members LaWana Mayfield and John Autry, and the DeLaine siblings from the Levine Museum of The New South’s “Courage” exhibit.
In a statement via the Observer Editor Rick Thames said, “The protest is misleading about the newspaper’s policy,” and that the Observer abides by the same guidelines as the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). “We do not use the term ‘illegal alien,’ and have not for many years. We also do not use the term ‘illegal immigrant’ lightly. First, the legal status of the person involved must be relevant to the news being reported. Often times it is not. When it is not, we do not note it.”
The SPJ’s resolution passed this fall, asks that members re-evaluate their use of the term “illegal immigrant.” Since meeting with U4TD this summer, the Observer has not changed its stance or re-evaluated use of “illegal immigrant.” Further, the paper used the phrase “illegal alien number” not long after meeting with the group.
Drop the I-Word submitted the following question to the Observer per the claim that they have not used the term “illegal alien.”
We agree with the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) that the term “illegal immigrant” should be re-evaluated. Hopefully in re-evaluating use, the term will be discarded for being unconstitutional (as it denies due process), dehumanizing, inaccurate (it’s not a legal term) and racially charged.We also agree with the Observer and SPJ that “illegal alien” is unacceptable. Was the Observer’s use of “illegal alien number” in the 09/09/2011 article, “Arrested immigration rally protesters expected to be freed today,” an oversight? Will you print a retraction since you have clarified that the Observer does not use the term “illegal alien?”
We hope to hear from the editor soon regarding use of a phrase that is against their policy. And we support U4TD in continuing to advocate for the paper to drop language that props up very real and harmful consequences like racial profiling, bullying, and a toxic learning environment.
Support United 4 the Dream today and tell the Charlotte Observer to Drop the I-Word.