Our VoiceImmigration

Cross-Post: Is the New York Times Playing Games With People’s Lives?


Imagine 2050 Staff • Feb 18, 2012

Originally posted by Colorlines on February 17.

Sometimes there are no words. This morning we were shocked see the following clue in the New York Times crossword puzzle:
54 Across: One Caught By Border Patrol
Answer: ILLEGAL
As soon as one of our vigilant Drop the I-Word campaign supporters* emailed us about it this morning we called the crossword hotline to verify the answer, because it was just so unbelievable. A game is the last place for this type of language, which has very real consequences in peoples’ lives. As people who care about human dignity and the law, to say we are disappointed, does not begin to cover it.
While the New York Times still has not dropped the dehumanizing, racially charged, legally inaccurate term “illegal immigrant” for which “illegals” is shorthand, we were encouraged that they at least were clear on not using the term as a noun. Years ago Lawrence Downes, a member of the editorial board of the New York Times wrote What Part of ‘Illegal’ Don’t you understand?, a primer explaining the harms of the i-word, which Will Shortz, the Times crossword puzzle editor and puzzle master for NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, must have missed. Shortz also may have missed the big to-do in December when Times writer and former Executive Editor Bill Keller and Standards Times Editor Phil Corbett addressed the use of “illegals” after Keller was bombarded with reader comments to retract the use of the word. Phil Corbett in an email to Keller:
I do think “illegals” as a shorthand noun has an unnecessarily pejorative tone, and it is routinely used by the anti-immigration side … It might be worth cautioning against “illegals” in the style book entry, though if i do that, I will wait for a decent interval – otherwise some suspicious observer will assume the change is aimed at you.
Keller writes at the end of his blog:
Well, vigilant readers, the good news is, you seem to have gotten the style book updated. And I’ll resist that particular shorthand in the future.

For the record, any “one caught by border patrol” as Shortz’s clue says, still has the right to due process, the presumption of innocence, and a fair day in court, a vital part of our democracy and international human rights law, which the “illegal” label denies.
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