Hillary Clinton Vows To Stop Calling Undocumented Immigrants 'Illegal'

She referred to the term a "poor choice of words."
Mike Segar / Reuters

Hillary Clinton promised on Tuesday to purge the term “illegal immigrant” from her vocabulary.

Pressed by journalist José Antonio Vargas during an online question-and-answer session hosted by Spanish-language news broadcaster Telemundo, Clinton publicly committed to avoiding the term, which is widely viewed as disparaging and inaccurate.

Vargas noted in conversation on Facebook that Clinton used the phrase “illegal immigrants” while discussing immigration reform during a recent campaign stop, and called the term “offensive.”

"On behalf of the organization I founded, Define American, and the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in this country -- including myself -- I am asking all the presidential candidates to recognize that #wordsmatter by committing to not using the term ‘illegal’ when referencing the undocumented population," he wrote. "Will you make that commitment?"

Clinton said she would.

"That was a poor choice of words. As I’ve said throughout this campaign, the people at the heart of this issue are children, parents, families, DREAMers. They have names, and hopes and dreams that deserve to be respected," she added.

Vargas has pressured a number of journalists and news organizations to abandon the term "illegal immigrant" since coming out as undocumented in a 2011 piece for New York Times Magazine.

His efforts followed those of several others. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists has for years counseled news organizations to strike the term from style guides, pointing out that "illegal immigrant" inaccurately describes a person, rather than an action, as "illegal," and contending that the phrase stigmatizes immigrants and Latinos more generally. Online publication Colorlines founded the “Drop the I-Word” campaign in 2010.

Ruth Guerra, the director of Hispanic media for the Republican National Committee, characterized Clinton's gesture as disingenuous.

"When Hillary Clinton thinks Latinos are not around she will brag about voting for a border fence and even use the term 'illegal immigrant,' yet in front of Latinos she criticizes such efforts and laments her previous words," Guerra said in a statement.

GOP presidential candidates have largely taken a tougher stance on illegal immigration than Democratic presidential hopefuls, and have also struggled with word choice when discussing the issue.

In June, for example, billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump referred to Mexican immigrants in broad strokes as "rapists" who are "bringing crime."

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush faced blowback in August for repeatedly using the term "anchor baby," a slur used to describe children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants.

The Associated Press announced in 2013 that it would strike the term in favor of more specific descriptions of people's immigration stories. The change prompted many other news organizations, including USA Today and the Chicago Tribune, to follow suit.

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