What's wrong with the term "illegal alien?" Jim Gearhart asks.

Enter the immigration debate fray, and you'll run into all sorts of variations on the term, and all sorts of alternatives to it. Some sound clinical, others border on pejorative. Illegal immigrant. Unauthorized immigrant. Undocumented alien. Illegals.

Since at least 2013, the Associated Press Stylebook — basically, the grammar Bible for most news writers — has frowned on just about all of those, even though it used to be fine with "illegal immigrant." In a blog post at the time, it explained:

"The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term 'illegal immigrant' or the use of 'illegal' to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that 'illegal' should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally."

In other words: It's OK. according to the AP, to say "an immigrant living here illegally," but not "an illegal immigrant."

(The AP Stylebook also discourages "undocumented," saying it's imprecise: Someone living here illegally may have all sorts of documents and may even be on the government's radar, but that doesn't mean he or she is authorized to be here).

AP compares it to other people-first language that eschews labels that might be considered demeaning: For instance, it says in its blog, it prefers to describe that a person has been diagnosed with schizophrenia to calling that person "a schizophrenic."

But this week's Jim Gearhart Show — live on Facebook every Thursday at 10:30 a.m., and available here as a podcast every week — Jim reflects on the news that the New York City Commission on Human Rights could fine landlords and employees up to $250,000 for calling someone "illegal" or an "alien" in a derogatory manner.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, they could also face fines for threatening to call federal agents on immigrants or for telling them "go back to your country." NYC has long banned descrimination based on citizenship status, and the new guidelines are meant to give that prohibition more teeth.

So Jim asks: Isn't the term just ... well ... accurate?

"If you are an alien, that simply means, if you look it up, a person from another country," Jim told Bob Williams during his Facebook Live video, which you can watch above.

And "illegal," he said, simply means you're breaking the law.

"So what is wrong with 'illegal alien?'" Jim asked. "How do you argue gramatically with that?"

Got an idea for an upcoming installment of Jim's show? Meet Jim at Facebook.com/NJ1015 to suggest it in the comments, or email Jim@nj1015.com.


That's just part of what Jim and Bob Williams take on in the latest installment of his show, also available as a podcast. Check out the full episode to hear the rest.

The Jim Gearhart Podcast is available every week on New Jersey 101.5 and in the New Jersey 101.5 app. You can also subscribe with your favorite podcasting app for iPhones, Android devices or your computer:

Love Podcasts? This week, on Speaking Podcast: Behind the scenes at Tito's Vodka.

— New Jersey 101.5 staff

More from New Jersey 101.5 and Jim Gearhart:

More From New Jersey 101.5 FM