Photo: AP

An agency-wide email from the Justice Department, obtained by CNN, instructed US attorneys offices to refer to undocumented immigrants in press releases only by the term “illegal aliens”.

“The word ‘undocumented’ is not based in US code and should not be used to describe someone’s illegal presence in the country,” the email reads.

It goes on to say:

If an alien is legally present in the US, or that alien’s legal status in the US is unknown, unclear, or absent from the public record at the time a press release is being issued, it is appropriate to describe their country of citizenship, such as “Canadian National Convicted of Human Trafficking”. They should be described according to their citizenship, not their city or state of residence. For instance, “a Honduran citizen residing in Toledo,” is correct. “Toledo Man” doesn’t accurately describe his residency.

They add that this does not apply to people who are US citizens or have permanent resident status.

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“Undocumented immigrant” is a common phrase used to describe people without legal status in this country, and it’s the phrase recommended by the AP Stylebook, which creates the style recommendations used by a huge number of media entities. In 2013, the AP changed their guidelines to clarify that only actions should be referred to as illegal, not people.

The debate over what to call undocumented immigrants has raged for years, some of it at a government level. In 2015, California officially removed the word “alien” from their labor code. “Alien is now commonly considered a derogatory term for a foreign-born person and has very negative connotations,” former California state Senator Tony Mendoza told the Los Angeles Times at the time. The Trump Administration’s Justice Department has now made their stance on this issue clear. Is anyone surprised?