‘Illegals’ Isn’t Fit for the New York Times

Bill Keller. Photo: Scott Gries/2008 Getty Images

The New York Times ran a thoughtful editorial in 2007 challenging the use of “illegals” as shorthand for “illegal immigrants,” charging that the term can be used pejoratively “as a code word for racial and ethnic hatred” and “leaves its target diminished as a human, a lifetime member of a presumptive criminal class.” Former executive editor Bill Keller continued to employ it in his writing, but won’t anymore after his inbox was bombarded with objections. Keller contended: “All labels are reductive. Liberals. Hispanics. Evangelicals. It’s a curse of language that clarity (and word limits) means simplification.” But Phil Corbett, the paper’s “arbiter of style and taste,” backed up Keller’s (grammatical and political) critics, noting that illegals “is routinely used by the anti-immigration side,” and thus “it’s wise to steer clear.” In Keller’s defense, we are in the heat of the anti-immigration side’s primary season