The controversy has mostly been about what to do with roughly 12 million people who entered this country illegally and then dissolved into the population. During frequent and heated arguments, sometimes a side controversy has erupted over calling them ‘illegal aliens.’ So ‘undocumented workers’ evolved as the preferred reference. Now, a new fight has erupted over media use of the term ‘illegal immigrant.’ What….?

Yes, they are immigrants who are here illegally, technically speaking. But speaking terms are changing fast in this culture, and usually for tendentious reasons that don’t hold up to scrutiny on closer look.

It only took a glance to notice this one. I happened on to a television news show debate, a heated one, just in time to see and hear Jehmu Greene, former president of the Women’s Media Center, arguing that the term “illegal immigrant” dehumanizes human beings. Wait a minute…..what’s this about?

Are “illegal aliens” simply misunderstood “undocumented immigrants?” The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Diversity Committee believes so, and it’s engaged in a campaign to “inform and sensitize journalists as to the best language to use when writing and reporting” on the issue.

Furthermore, the SPJ contends it’s unconstitutional to use the term journalists are used to using.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press, who’s stylebook dictates much of the language used by journalists, is standing by the term…

From AP’s deputy standards editor David Minthorn: “The AP Stylebook created its entry on ‘illegal immigrant’ in 2004, in response to renewed debate over border security and the enforcement of immigration laws after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Together, the terms describe a person who resides in a country unlawfully by residency or citizenship requirements. Alternatives like undocumented worker, illegal alien or illegals lack precision or may have negative connotations. Illegal immigrant, on the other hand, is accurate and neutral for news stories.”

So this argument goes on for a while on the TV news show, and I’m struck by its nonsense, literally. Jehmu Greene contends that the term ‘illegal immigrant’ denies the humanity of the people involved. And she says that can even lead to violence against them.

This is the same Jehmu Greene who took to the airwaves of television news shows last January vigorously to battle against CBS allowing the Tebow ad to air during the Super Bowl. Remember that?

“CBS has had a well-documented position that it would not accept ads about contentious or controversial subjects,” said Jehmu Greene, president of the New York-based Women’s Media Center, which is spearheading the campaign. “I don’t think there is another issue in our society as contentious and controversial as abortion. There is some very strong hypocrisy at work.”

Interesting allegation.

Ms. Greene was a guest on the Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor Tuesday evening and host Bill O’Reilly re-stated the controversy to clarify. Abortion activists charge the ad is trying to turn the public against ‘choice.’ O’Reilly said….wait a minute….it shows that Mrs. Tebow had a choice and chose to have this baby, and Tim Tebow is the result of that choice, which he celebrates. Can you not, Ms. Greene, applaud the fact that Mrs. Tebow had a choice and made the one she felt most strongly about, asked O’Reilly?

‘I applaud the fact that Mrs. Tebow had a choice,’ she responded with stress.

‘Aren’t you attacking the group Focus on the Family more than addressing the message of their ad?’ asked O’Reilly. ‘You’re trying to muzzle these guys!’

And she’s doing it again, this time the journalists who use the term she finds so offensive and dehumanizing.

But since she brought up hypocrisy, well…..let’s look at it this way….

The term “choice” is a euphemism for abortion, and the ultimate dehumanizing term in modern political and cultural use. It denies the humanity of the human beings involved. And certainly leads to violence against them.

I kept hoping the news show host, or even the debate opponent on that show, would carry Ms. Greene’s argument about ‘illegal immigrants’ through to its logical conclusion. I practically talked back to the TV, asking her to ask the right questions. But alas, the argument went another way and then time expired.

So, speaking of expired, and terms, and the humanity of individuals behind the language we use in media and politics…..what about the term “choice,” Ms. Greene?

And, how about that Tebow ad? Let’s be honest.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....