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Drop "illegal immigrant" from your editorial guidelines

This petition had 3,303 supporters


I first encountered the term “illegal” in reference to immigrants as a sophomore in high school, participating in an internship at a hospital. One morning in the middle of the internship, the director asked to speak with me and led me to her office. She sighed, looked at me, and said “I’m sorry Jin, but I’m afraid our institution doesn’t allow illegal aliens to participate in our program.”

Those words affected me. Throughout the rest of my high school career, I kept my status as an undocumented immigrant a closely guarded secret. I avoided conversations about traveling abroad and lied to my friends saying my dad was picking me up at a bodega across the street from the school, when I was taking the subway home everyday because my parents didn’t have driver’s licenses.

The language used by the program coordinator changed my relationship with my country, but more importantly the words became my motivation to act. Last year, I led a group of students who convinced the Harvard Crimson to join Define American’s #WordsMatter campaign by pledging to not use the terms “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien” – and now we’re aiming even higher.

Sign my petition to ask that CNN publicly commit to stop using the term “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien.”

CNN has promised before to prohibit the use of these offensive terms, but has since allowed several instances of it across its platforms in recent months, and refused to publicly acknowledge that its editorial policy bans use of the terms or to confirm any enforcement of its policy. This election season, the network is where millions of people turn to engage with the race for the next president, so it’s important for our national conversation on immigration that CNN portrays undocumented people as nothing less than human.

As a major news organization, CNN has a responsibility to inform the electorate with true and objective sources of information.

Being called “illegal,” as a noun, penetrated deeply within my mental life because being “an illegal” felt like all of my actions — past, present, and future — were illegal. It felt like the entirety of my presence in the U.S. was unwelcome.

Calling someone “an illegal” is much more than a synonym for undocumented immigrant. It prescribes a value judgement on a person’s existence in the US and fails to uphold the dignity of undocumented immigrants as human beings. It is a comprehensive statement of guilt that often precludes the possibility of honest and respectful dialogue.

Join me and ask CNN to commit to covering all people – including undocumented immigrants – with dignity, by publicly dropping “illegal” from its editorial guidelines and committing to enforcing its policy.



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