Define American

Using the power of story to transcend politics and shift the conversation around citizenship

#WordsMatter: Media Pledge

If you're a high school, college or professional journalist and would like to commit to not using the word “illegal” to describe undocumented immigrants, please add your name to our list of journalists and organizations who agree, #wordsmatter. If you are representing a media organization and would like to be officially recognized, please contact our Chief Communications Officer, Saadia McConville, at

#WordsMatter: Presidential Candidate Pledge

Words matter. Phrases like "illegal" frame the conversation, how politicians talk about the issue, and - inevitably - how policies are created. As immigration continues to be a focal point of the current presidential race, Define American has asked all candidates to recognize that words matter by committing to not using the term "illegal" when referencing our country's 11.7 million undocumented immigrants.

Candidates who have made this commitment:
Hillary Clinton, November 24th

Martin O'Malley, November 30th

Bernie Sanders, January 14th

Click the image below to sign our Care2 petition:

"Illegal Immigrant"

The term “illegal,” when referencing immigrants, is legally inaccurate. Being in the U.S. without proper documents is a civil offense, not a criminal one. Underscoring this reality, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has said: “As a general rule, it is not a crime for a movable alien to remain in the United States.

On April 2, 2013, at the urging of Define American and other groups, the Associated Press changed its Stylebook entry for "illegal immigration," which is copied below:

illegal immigration: Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.

Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.

Whether reporting on the issue or speaking about it in conversation, Define American suggests the terms "undocumented American" or "undocumented immigrant" be used instead.

"Anchor Baby"

The term "anchor baby" as used to describe the American citizen children of undocumented immigrants is a racial slur, as it is most commonly associated with citizens of Mexican descent. The phrase assumes a motive and a premeditated desire to break the law, with no foundation in fact or supportive data. It also belies a fundamental ignorance of the citizenship process, as it insinuates that the parents of a U.S. citizen will automatically be granted benefits or citizenship themselves. In reality, the process to petition for citizenship cannot begin until a child is 21; and if a parent entered the country without documentation, can extend another decade past that.

The term also dehumanizes current American citizens, attempting to strip them of rights granted under the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is a term that pits citizens against each other, creating arbitrary divisions among people who are equal members of our country.

Define American suggests the terms "American children of undocumented parents" or simply "Americans" be used instead.

They agree. #WordsMatter.


The Badger Herald, University of Wisconsin
Cornell Sun, Cornell University
The Yale Daily News, Yale University
University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas
The Stanford Daily, Stanford University
The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University
University of California Los Angeles

National Media

The Associated Press
• Buzzfeed
• The Huffington Post
Los Angeles Times
• Politico
• Univision
USA Today
• Vox

Regional Media

• CTV - Prince George's County Community Television
Chicago Tribune
The Denver Post
• The Des Moines Register
• Al Día en América (Louisville, KY)
• Latino Lubbock Magazine (Lubbock, TX)
• Tribuna Newspaper (CT)


• Arthur Connor | Contributing Writer, Idyllwild Town Crier
• Carmen Almendarez
• Dan Kowalski | Editor, Bender's Immigration Bulletin
• Graham Brewer | Reporter, The Oklahoman
• Jerald Jamerson | The Relationship
• John de Clef Piñeiro, Esq. | The Peoples' Party
• Kathy Parrent
• Kia Sample | Host, The Kia Sample Show
• Lilly Collette | Blogger
• Martin Berlanga | Telemundo
• Megan Strom | Columnist, La Prensa de Minnesota
• Mercedes Lackey | Freelance Author
• Mois Faion | Senior Researcher, Center for the Study of Democracy
• Richard Fazekas | Promotion Director, Rikkyroc Promociones
• Robert Shook | Photojournalist, Rochester Institute of Technology
• Sandra Mattson
• Suzette Standring | Columnist, GateHouse Media
• Troy Espera | Producer, Balitang America
• Unai Montes-Irueste | Founder, Our Place in History
• Ana M. Fores Tamayo | Founder, Adjunct Justice


• The National Association of Hispanic Journalists
• The Filipino American Press Club of New York

High Schools

• Sarah Wells | News Editor & Photo Editor, The Cedar Post
• Daniel Hamilton | Editor in Chief, HHSToday
• Alex Rand | Editor in Chief, The McClintock Guidon
• Saba Mashayekhi
• Austin Michael
• Juan Vasallo
• Alyssa Downer
• Eryn Ormesher | Editor in Chief, The Advocate
• Stephi Smith | News Editor, Mountlake Terrace High School Hawkeye
• Marianne Nacanaynay Smith | Reporter, Mountlake Terrace High School Hawkeye
• Morgan Donohue
• Katy Clanton
• Hannah Schoenbaum | Editor in Chief, Trident Magazine
• Jodi Parker | Copy Editor, Trident Magazine
• Andrew Young | Videographer Captain, Los Altos High School, The Talon
• Rylea Gillis | Sports Editor, Whitney Update
• Franco Vidal | Writer, The North Star
• Katie Peurrung | Photo Editor, Hanford Student Media
• Rachel Marquardt | Copy Editor, The Roar
• Hanan Begic | Co-Design Editor, Details Yearbook
• Sierra Makayla | Data Editor, The Chroncile
• Katie Kroeppler
• Claire Caldera | Layout Editor & Reporter, Beyond the Cave
• Alexis Sullivan | Editor in Chief, Inkwell
• Caitlyn Dolan | Photographer, Mountain Home High School
• Rachael Loughry
• Nicole Asbury | Editor in Chief, LV Junebug
• Rhianna McDaniel | Assistant Editor in Chief, LV Junebug
• Lauren Hawkins | Business Editor/Managing Editor, LV Junebug
• Jorge Grijalva | Writer and Opinions Editor, The Anchor, Port of Los Angeles High School Newspaper
• Aarushi Pant | Managing Editor, The Saga Newspaper
• Rachael Lizardi | Director/Writer, Airport High School
• Caitlin Williams
• Oluoma Obi | Copy Editor, Shawnee Mission North Indian Yearbook

It's not about being politically correct. It's about being morally decent. - Jose Antonio Vargas

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