Petition to Drop 'Illegal' Delivered to New York Times

PHOTO: Jose Antonio Vargas and Mónica Novoa of Define American deliver two cardboard boxes to the New York Times, which they say contain a petition with over 70,000 signatures asking the media company to drop the term "illegal immigrant."

On Tuesday afternoon, a group of advocates against the use of the term "illegal immigrant" gathered outside The New York Times building in Times Square to deliver a petition of protest. Organizers said the petition, which asked the paper to stop using the phrase contained more than 70,000 signatures collected online.

Among those present were Jose Antonio Vargas, an immigration activist and Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, who revealed his undocumented status a year and a half ago in the Times' pages, Mónica Novoa, the director of Define American, and Fernando Chavez, the eldest son of labor leader Cesar Chavez, who died exactly 20 years ago to the day.

For Fernando Chavez, the action was a way of commemorating his father.

"It's a symbolic gesture. The New York Times should have made this decision a long time ago. They should have been leading on this. " Chavez noted.

Six leaders in the 'Drop the I Word' movement waited at the company's security desk to deliver the petition, initially hoping to meet with Executive Editor Jill Abramson. Instead, New York Times lawyer Ellen Herb came down to pick up the petition, which filled two cardboard boxes.

"We brought this for you as a gift as well," said Vargas, handing Herb this poster emblazoned with the phrase "No human being is illegal" by artist Favianna Rodriguez.

The delivery of the petitions comes just weeks after the Associated Press, the largest news-gathering outlet in the world, dropped the term saying that it was part of the company's on-going attempt to rid their Stylebook of labels. That day, The New York Times also said that they would likely update their standards guidelines with "incremental" changes to "provide more nuance and options." But this hasn't yet happened.

Vargas, who made clear that the gathering was "not a protest," but a "polite" delivery of the petition also said that "the Times needs to get with the times."

Many news sources, including CNN, ABC, NBC, and USA Today have dropped the term in recent years. Fusion, the ABC-Univision joint venture, does not use "illegal immigrant" because we believe it dehumanizes those it describes and we find it to be linguistically inaccurate.

One of the advocates chosen to deliver the petition inside the building was Abraham Paulos, a representative of Families for Freedom, a network that helps immigrants fighting deportation.

"Once you call someone 'illegal' it's like you have no humanity and dignity, you're an illegal person, you're a contraband," he said. "That's just not how we should treat human beings."

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