Fox's Geraldo To Colleagues: Stop Slurring Undocumented Immigrants

Fox News has spent years calling undocumented immigrants “illegals” and “illegal aliens.” But the network's practice has a vocal critic within its own building: Fox News host Geraldo Rivera.

In a column published on Fox News Latino, Rivera wrote that “cable news and talk radio are making a killing demonizing undocumented immigrants” and noted that during the immigration reform debate, “ample file footage exists in every news outlet's video library of young Latinos jumping the border wall or wading across the Rio Grande.”

Rivera's column took primary aim at the use of “two powerful pejoratives, illegal and alien,” writing:

Like the words 'Jew' or 'slob' or 'slut', the phrase 'illegal alien' has the elegance of being harsh, but defensible, if accurate. Although it can be used as a cutting reference, it can still be uttered in polite company without fear of raising many eyebrows, especially among those who feel similarly negative about the individual being described.

While discussing the use of “illegal alien” and “illegals,” Rivera implored media outlets -- including “my own” -- to stop using the slur because it's dehumanizing and lazy:

Aside from its unstated but intended negative reaction, I have a lawyer's reason for wanting media outlets like my own to ban or at least modify the phrase. Absent a finding by a judicial or administrative body, it assumes a legal conclusion, that a person has no right to be in the United States. Given that every person whose resident status is questioned has the presumed right to a hearing on the matter, with an appellate process following a negative result, isn't the media's use of the expression as lazy as assuming the guilt of a person accused of every other crime?

How is it that accused murderers, robbers and child molesters are called “alleged” perpetrators, but immigrants are not accorded the same courtesy of accuracy, indeed, the same presumption of innocence?

“Illegal alien” is a cheap shot. The oft-used plural of the adjective “illegal” as in “illegals” isn't even recognized as an English noun by Microsoft Word.

It is stigma piled on stigma, and the potential consequences to a person so described following a judicial finding can be devastating. Anyone who suggests that deportation isn't punishment is being disingenuous. So, if you insist on using the ungrammatical slur, at least await a finding of illegality before branding usually hard-working, otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants snared by authorities.

News outlets like The New York Times and Associated Press have dropped the use of “illegals” from their style guide. But Fox's reporters haven't followed suit. The slur has been recently used on Fox's “straight news” programs by anchors, reporters, and on-screen text. It's been used by anchors during its election coverage and during a presidential debate. And it goes without saying that “illegals” is a staple of Fox's opinion programming and online websites, especially Fox Nation.

Last weekend, Fox News host Mike Huckabee defended the use of the slur by stating: “If you call someone undocumented, you're essentially saying they're illegal; it's the same word.” Fox News' Tucker Carlson and Bill O'Reilly have also recently defended its use.

Rivera previously criticized Fox News host Eric Bolling for his “hardline” attitude toward immigrants, which Rivera said is “way too draconian to be in any sense humane or American.” Bob Beckel also criticized his co-hosts on The Five for using the “illegal” slur.