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.
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.
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.
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,” 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 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 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.
In the context of immigration, assimilation typically refers to immigrants’ adoption of the majority group’s language and some of their cultural values. Historically in the US, it can have coded racist connotations, as it has often implied the absorption of dominant cultural norms. Terms such as integration or acculturation are possible alternatives, with more of an emphasis on a two-way process, allowing for the retention of native customs, language, and other cultural markers.
“Migrant” is an umbrella term for anyone who moves within or outside of their country of residence. Being specific about the situation in question and someone’s motivation for the move can help bring clarity to a story. For example, referring to people who are fleeing war or persecution as “refugees” will highlight the necessity of their move in a way that recognizes their situation.
A DACA recipient is an individual who has been granted protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. A person applies for DACA and, upon approval, “has DACA,” “has DACA status,” or is a “DACA recipient.” “DACAmented” is also a popular usage among some DACA recipients, though as not all recipients use the term, limiting it to those who self-identify in this way acknowledges that difference. Due to the potential legal ramifications of disclosing someone’s immigration status, it’s especially important to confirm with an individual that they are comfortable with the information being included in media coverage, and that its inclusion is necessary and relevant.
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