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Borders and Populations

detention center

A detention center, or immigrant detention center, is a facility used to hold immigrants in custody. In the US, these are largely overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They are often identical to prisons in their form and processes; some migrant rights groups prefer to call such centers “immigrant prisons and jails.”

developed / developing countries (First World / Third World countries, Global North, Global South)

“Developing” or “developed countries” are vague terms used to classify countries via various measures, including income levels and mortality rates. “First World” and “Third World” are now seen by many groups as offensive. “Global North” and “Global South” refer primarily to economic conditions rather than geography. More precise phrasing, where possible, would be to specify countries and metrics, and include income levels. Whichever term is used, it’s helpful to explain to the audience how it’s defined.


A “diaspora” refers to the movement of migrants or descendants of migrants who identify with a homeland but currently live outside of it. A diaspora is not a monolith, so clarifying who you are including in a description (for example: “members of,” “some of,” etc.) will help to avoid overly broad generalizations.

displaced / internally displaced person (IDP)

A “displaced person” or “internally displaced person” is someone who is forced to leave their home or place of residence. The latter term is somewhat formal; it may be clearer to the reader to mention that the individual is displaced within their home country.

diversity immigrant visa / green card lottery

The diversity immigrant visa program, a.k.a. “green card lottery,” is a US government program for receiving lawful permanent residence in the United States. If the origins of a migrant’s lawful permanent residence are important to a story, the formal term “diversity immigrant visa” is more accurate than “green card lottery,” though it’s helpful to consider the relevance of including someone’s method of entry in an unrelated story.


The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act is a bill that aims to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children. Someone who qualifies for the DREAM Act is called a “DREAMer” or “Dreamer.” DREAMer and DACA recipient are not interchangeable terms — DREAMer refers to the wider population of undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, not all of whom are eligible for DACA, so only DREAMers who have received DACA status are DACA recipients.

ethnic cleansing

Language, Please is a living resource that will be regularly updated. We’re working hard on an entry for this topic — please check back in soon.

expulsion / deportation

“Expulsion” refers to legal orders to leave the territory of a state. “Deportation” refers to the implementation of those orders. Be mindful when reporting on undocumented immigration of anything that could put a source at risk of legal action, and make sure to clearly explain how the information they are giving you would be used and any potential risks for them.

family separation

Family separation refers to the forcible separation of migrant children and families. In recent years, it has become associated with a particular period of government action in 2017-2018. When using the term, for clarity it’s helpful to distinguish between “forcible separation” or “separation by US Customs and Border Protection” and separation occurring through other circumstances, for instance accidental separation.

family-based immigration / family reunification

The term “family-based immigration” refers to a type of immigration that is based on family ties. It is also sometimes called “chain migration,” though this term is often used in coded racist ways and thus may be best restricted to direct quotes, with some explanation given.

Last updated 08/05/22

Migration is key to so many stories we tell about the world and its peoples, which makes it a challenging topic to cover in a nuanced way. Conflicts can involve the highest stakes, borders are continually shifting, and legal and cultural definitions are frequently at odds. Certain terms related to migration have also taken on specific cultural meanings in the US, and to use them could inadvertently appear to be endorsing a particular viewpoint. 

This section of Language, Please aims to help journalists understand key immigration-related terms and the ways their use continues to evolve. This guidance is intended for US newsrooms and focuses on US policy.

This resource was informed by questions and discussions from our own newsrooms. It is a living document that will expand over time. It is not meant to be comprehensive or the definitive arbiter of language “rules” but instead aims to give context and inform thoughtful decision-making. Have a suggestion for an update, change, or addition? Please get in touch.

How to use: Browse the whole section or search for the term you need guidance on; click into any term for in-depth context, additional resources, and related terms. 

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Language, Please is a living resource and will be updated regularly. Have a question, suggestion, or addition? We’d love to hear from you.

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