Illegal immigrant

On April 2, the Associated Press’s Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll wrote that

[the AP] Stylebook no longer sanctions the term “illegal immigrant” or the use of “illegal” to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that “illegal” should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.

Is this supposed to be a pronouncement on English syntax? That is, an adjective describing an action should not modify the person committing that action?

There is a certain logic to that judgment. But then what about, say bad writer? Someone who writes badly can be a perfectly good person. (Or vice versa.) An abstract artist may produce abstract art, but is usually a concrete person. A criminal lawyer may practice criminal law, but is most probably a law-abiding citizen. I wonder if the AP will, for the sake of consistency, drop these usages.

Probably not.


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