Study: Use of 'Illegal Alien' At an All Time Low

Despite controversy, 'illegal immigrant' remains popular in media.

June 18, 2013 — -- Amid recent controversy, a few major news-gathering organizations like the Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press have announced they'd no longer use the term "illegal immigrant" because it labels people rather than their behavior.

Now, new research from Pew reveals that despite such policy changes, "illegal immigrant" remains the most common way for newspapers to describe those in the country without authorization, accounting for 49% of terms examined in their study.

Still, alternatives like "unauthorized" and "undocumented" are also growing in popularity. And some terms are definitely dying out. The use of "illegal alien," for example, reached an all-time low this year, representing only 5 percent of terms used. The term peaked in 2007, when it represented 22 percent of terms used.

The findings were derived from a survey of 9,000 articles in newspapers around the country, in which they sampled 19 related terms.

In recent months, advocate and journalist Jose Antonio Vargas along with the Drop the I-Word campaign pushed news outlets to ban "illegal immigrant" from their styleguides, even dropping off a petition with 70,000 signatures at the New York Times office building.

"The Gray Lady" has since adjusted their policies on the term to make them more "detailed and nuanced," according to Associate Managing Editor for Standards Phil Corbett. Check out their new rules here.

But it's not just newspapers getting rid of "illegal immigrant." Many major TV outlets, including ABC, Univision, NBC, and CNN, have banned the term. While Fox News continues to use "illegal immigrant," the Fox News Latino digital branch has banned it from their site.

Fusion, an ABC- Univision joint venture, also does not use "illegal immigrant."