The Associated Press has now officially dropped the term, but the President has mentioned “illegal immigrants” 28 times since taking office, including as recently as two months ago
The Associated Press announced Tuesday that it would no longer refer to people living in the United States illegally as “illegal immigrants.”
From the updated AP Stylebook:
“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.”
That decision comes on the heels of a reenergized campaign for “comprehensive immigration reform” in D.C. this session, and increased pressure on the Republican Party to “reach out” to the Hispanic community.
Although pundits rarely detail what “reaching out” means, it can be agreed upon that, at a minimum, the GOP is looking to put an end to Akin-esque statements on the policy issue, such as the slur made by Alaska U.S. Representative Don Young last week.
President Barack Obama, meanwhile, has been using the bully pulpit to push for such immigration reform, mentioning it in his most recent State of the Union Address in February:
“We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.”
But, unlike the new AP policy, throughout his presidency Obama has not simply referred to behavior as illegal, but also people.
A Smart Politics review of information provided in the Public Papers of the President finds that Barack Obama has used the term “illegal immigrant” 28 times during his presidency, beginning on his 51st day in office and as recently as late January of this year.
Harry Truman was the first president to make a public reference to illegal immigrants – doing so 11 times in a July 1951 Special Message to the Congress on the Employment of Agricultural Workers from Mexico.
It would be 30 years before the next president used the term when Ronald Reagan released a Statement on United States Immigration and Refugee Policy on July 30, 1981:
“Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force. Those who have established equities in the United States should be recognized and accorded legal status. At the same time, in so doing, we must not encourage illegal immigration.”
Reagan, of course, famously signed a bill in 1986 that gave amnesty to millions of individuals who had entered the country before 1982 and he never again used the phrase during his presidency.
Neither did George H.W. Bush, although Bill Clinton put it on the table 84 times.
“I was especially concerned about the growing problems of alien smuggling and international terrorists hiding behind immigrant status, as well as the continuing flow of illegal immigrants across American borders.” – Remarks and an Exchange With Reporters on Immigration Policy (July 27, 1993)
“On illegal immigration–we’ve increased by about 40 percent the number of border guards we’ve got, and we’re sending illegal immigrants back more rapidly than ever before, especially if they come in contact with the criminal justice system.” – Remarks in a Town Meeting With Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich in Claremont, New Hampshire (June 11, 1995)
“Barbara Jordan was very instrumental in the progress we have made in tightening our border to keep illegal immigrants out and securing our workplace for American citizens and legal immigrants.” – The President’s Radio Address (January 20, 1996)
George W. Bush referenced “illegal immigrants” more than any other president at 157 times.
However, Bush was in office nearly three years before he first used the term when he delivered remarks on immigration reform on January 7, 2004:
“Third, we should not give unfair rewards to illegal immigrants in the citizenship process or disadvantage those who came here lawfully or hope to do so.”
The majority of Bush’s 157 references to “illegal immigrants” during his presidency came in 2006 and 2007 when he pushed Congress to pass immigration reform legislation.
As for President Obama, he was only 51 days in office when he first used the “illegal immigrant” label to describe individuals who were in the country illegally:
“With respect to immigration reform, to some degree the collapse of housing construction in the country has slowed the flow of illegal immigrants coming into the country, but it remains a serious concern.” – Interview With Regional Reporters (March 11, 2009)
Obama has used the term throughout his presidency. Here is a sampling:
“Let’s start with the false claim that illegal immigrants will get health insurance under reform. That’s not true. Illegal immigrants would not be covered. That idea has never even been on the table.” – The President’s Weekly Address (August 22, 2009)
“I have repeatedly said that there are some essential components that must be in immigration legislation. It must call for stronger border security measures, tougher penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants, and clearer rules for controlling future immigration.” – Statement on Immigration Reform Legislation (April 29, 2010)
“Regardless of how they came, the overwhelming majority of these folks are just trying to earn a living and provide for their families. But we have to acknowledge they’ve broken the rules. They’ve cut in front of the line. And what is also true is that the presence of so many illegal immigrants makes a mockery of all those who are trying to immigrate legally.” – Remarks in El Paso, Texas (May 10, 2011)
“And we don’t want to expose employers to the risk where they end up rejecting a qualified candidate for a job because the list says that that person is an illegal immigrant, and it turns out that the person isn’t an illegal immigrant. That wouldn’t be fair for the employee and would probably get the employer in trouble as well. – The President’s News Conference (June 29, 2011)
While pitching the Democratic-backed health care legislation, Obama insisted on multiple occasions that illegal immigrants would not be covered by the law:
“First of all, you mentioned illegal immigrants. This has been an example of just pure misinformation out there. None of the bills that have been voted on in Congress and none of the proposals coming out of the White House propose giving coverage to illegal immigrants, none of them. That has never been on the table; nobody has discussed it. So everybody who is listening out there, when you start hearing that somehow this is all designed to provide health insurance to illegal immigrants, that is simply not true and has never been the case.” – Interview With Michael A. Smerconish of the Michael Smerconish Morning Show (August 20, 2009)
“The truth is, there’s no plan that has ever been considered under health care reform in Congress that covers illegal immigrants. Nobody’s proposed that. And yet a huge percentage believe that that’s the case. So, anybody listening right now, let’s dispel that myth.” – Remarks at the Organizing for America National Health Care Forum and a Question-and-Answer Session (August 20, 2009)
“Let me be clear. I think that, if I’m not mistaken, almost all of the plans had specific language saying that illegal immigrants would not be covered. The question really was, was the enforcement mechanism strong enough? Here’s what I’ve said, and I will repeat: I don’t think that illegal immigrants should be covered under this health care plan.” – Interview with John King on CNN’s “State of the Union” (September 20, 2009)
In fact, it was Obama’s insistence that illegal immigrants would not be covered by his health care legislation that prompted South Carolina Republican U.S. Representative Joe Wilson’s famous outburst during a September 2009 Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on Health Care Reform:
Obama: “Now, there are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This too is false. The reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.”
Representative Joe Wilson. You lie!
Obama’s most recent use of the term came just over two months ago while delivering remarks in Las Vegas:
“First, we strengthened security at the borders so that we could finally stem the tide of illegal immigrants. We put more boots on the ground on the southern border than at any time in our history. And today, illegal crossings are down nearly 80 percent from their peak in 2000.” – Remarks at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada (January 29, 2013)
And now, with the AP giving the president further cover to use other phrases, such as “undocumented workers,” one wonders if Obama will ever utter the phrase “illegal immigrants” again.
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