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Borders and Populations

federally recognized Tribe

A federally recognized Tribe is a legal description of a government-to-government relationship with an American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity. A federally recognized Tribe may also be called a federally recognized Indian Nation, band, pueblo, community, or Native village; understanding the terms that members of these communities use to self-identify is helpful for accuracy and clarity. Explaining a Tribe’s status as recognized or unrecognized, and how that status affects issues facing the community, adds vital context for readers.

green card / lawful permanent residence (LPR)

A green card allows a person to live and work in the United States, conferring the status of lawful permanent residence. Terms such as “green card marriage” are vague, contain assumptions about an individual’s situation, and can reinforce negative stereotypes.

hate crime

A hate crime as defined by the Justice Department is “a crime motivated by bias against [perceived or actual] race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.” Since the legal standard for a hate crime is narrow and may be difficult to determine, especially in a breaking news situation, adding hedging language such as “possible” or “alleged” may be necessary until further information is available.

Hong Kong

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.

human smuggling

“Human smuggling,” sometimes called “migrant smuggling,” involves illegally transporting someone across a border (usually an international border) to a state or nation where the individual is not a national or permanent resident, for financial or other material gain. Human smuggling is often confused with human trafficking, but there is a distinction: Smuggling is a crime against the state, while trafficking is a crime against the individual being trafficked.

human trafficking

Human trafficking is the coercion of a person into some kind of labor, including sex work and domestic servitude, by means of force, deception, or fraud. Human trafficking should not be conflated with human smuggling, which involves transporting someone across the border illegally and does not involve coercion; or with voluntary sex work, which, due to being voluntary, is not related to human trafficking.


An immigrant is someone who moves to a country other than that of their nationality or usual residence. Immigrant, refugee, and asylum seeker are all technically types of migrants, though the latter two imply involuntary migration.

immigration courts

Immigration courts are a network of civil courts overseen by the Justice Department, where immigration-related proceedings, such as asylum claims and deportation hearings, are decided. The court system has been criticized by academics and activists for its huge backlog and the influence that politics may have in its decisions.


Indigenous can refer to the original inhabitants of a place, and to their customs, language, and other cultural markers. In the continental United States, Indigenous peoples are also referred to broadly as Native Americans, American Indians, and First Americans. Those who are Indigenous to Alaska are typically called Alaska Natives. There are several Indigenous Pacific Islander populations in the US, including Native Hawaiians, the CHamorus of the Mariana Islands, and Samoans. While Indigenous can be used as a broad category, it’s clearest to specify the population being referred to whenever possible, and to take into account an individual’s preference whenever possible.


In the context of immigration, “invasion” is a coded term often used to describe immigrants from Central and South American countries, which can serve to dehumanize and other them. If use of the term is necessary and relevant to coverage, explaining its coded meanings provides the audience with essential context.

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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