A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Letters to the Editor

By Quill

Quill welcomes and will consider letters to the editor for publishing online and in print. Please include your first and last name, location and a telephone number for verification. Submit to quill@spj.org.

See letters regarding the SPJ Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award here.

Editor’s Note: The Diversity Toolbox column by Leo Laurence in the November/December 2010 issue was mistakenly identified by some readers, bloggers and news outlets as the position of SPJ and the Diversity Committee. Contrary to what has been reported, national SPJ has not engaged in any initiative to end the use of the term “illegal immigrant.” The views expressed by Laurence are his own opinion. SPJ President Hagit Limor went on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” on Jan. 4 to clarify the issue. Watch the segment here.

Laurence’s Constitution charge doesn’t work

As a longtime member of SDX, then SPJ, I fear the organization will next morph into the Society of Politically Correct Journalists, if we follow the misguided lead of Leo Laurence.

In his full-page argument to ban the use of “illegal immigrant,” he takes the speech police into a new precinct. Laughably, he tries to use the Constitution to make the charge stick. Motion denied! Case dismissed!

“Illegal immigrant” is quite appropriate to describe noncitizens who are within our borders in violation of our laws. Period. End of story.

He argues that Latinos are offended by the description. Why? Immigration is a matter of nationality, not ethnicity.

Mr. Laurence is described as a “longtime” member of the Diversity Committee. Too long, I suspect.


Augusta, Ga.

‘Illegal’ incorrect, but so is ‘immigrant’

I am so glad that you at the Society of Professional Journalists have finally decided to acknowledge the impropriety of using the term “illegal immigrants.” You are so correct. That term is indeed obnoxious and, I must admit, I verily bristle every time I hear it. I agree that no matter how illicit something is, it must first be judged and found to be illegal before it can properly be labeled as such.

However, I also find the usage of the title of “immigrant” to be equally misapplied, if not even more so. These persons are not “immigrants.” Immigration applicants properly go through a long and difficult legal process before their application is even accepted and they are allowed to proceed. Then they must still prove themselves and be sworn before they can properly be called immigrant U.S. citizens.

People who sneak into our nation, whom I agree should no longer be referred to as “illegal immigrants,” should not even be accorded the presumption of propriety offered by referring to them as “immigrants.” They are citizens of a foreign nation who have entered the United States of America in an illicit and clandestine manner, and for unknown purpose, which entirely bypasses the legal immigration process; they do not undergo any background check to ensure that they are not criminals, and they do not undergo any sort of a health screening to ensure that they do not carry some hidden illness that might spread uncontrollably.

Not only is referring to these undocumented people as “illegal” inaccurate because of the technicality that each individual has not personally been judged, but referring to them as immigrants, in any manner, tries to lend them a semblance of legitimacy in their actions and also empowers their supporters.

I suggest that the only reason any one particular nationality or ethnic group would be particularly offended by any term used to refer to those who violate our national border and enter our nation illicitly is because they might be the ones who are the most egregious offenders of our laws concerning the issue.

Finally, might I suggest referring to those who have entered the United States without following the proper legal process as “undocumented aliens.”


Montclair, Calif.

Laurence incorrect but has right to position

Overall, I am shocked that an individual with a law degree and the level of experience that Mr. Laurence has is presenting an argument that combines criminal law, constitutional law and ethics regarding journalism in this manner. Overall his position does not hold true to any laws including the Constitution of which he makes general references to. Here is why Leo’s argument is incorrect on any violation of law or constitutional law:

• A statement or view does not convict or validate a crime has been committed. The views or statements presented are just that, a view or statement supported by the First Amendment in which both private individuals and the press have the right to express free speech.

• Leo’s claim that only a court of law or a judge can make that statement is also incorrect, for the reason above and because no person or persons are being arrested, convicted, detained or imprisoned without due process of law (Fifth Amendment). If an individual were imprisoned without due process of law, then a violation of that person’s constitutional right would have occurred regardless if they are a legal citizen or not.

Leo’s statement is purely a feeling that he is trying to present as fact by making general references to the Bill of Rights and U.S. Constitution. With this said, I believe that Leo has a right to his views regardless of who agrees, and I support his ability to express his views because it is his Constitutional right.


Milwaukee, Wis.