Univision Noticias Apologizes for Use of ‘Inmigrantes Ilegales’ in Facebook Live Post

Jul 3, 2019
2:50 PM

On Monday night, award-winning journalist and Latino Rebels contributor Pilar Marrero tweeted a screen shot of a Univision Noticias Facebook Live digital news broadcast which reported that President Trump was promising to commence raids on immigrant communities later this week.

As Marrero noted in her tweet, the screen grab showed that Univision Noticias used the term “inmigrantes ilegales” (“illegal immigrants”) in its copy, a term no longer being used by several major news sites such as The Associated Press (since 2013), after advocates and journalists campaigned for a change.

Marrero went on to tweet, “Dear please tell your social media scribes that we have fought long and hard to keep mainstream media from using the phrase ‘illegal immigrant’ and that Spanish-language media should not be doing it at this stage of the game. .”

Marrero also posted the following on her Facebook profile:

“For decades we have been trying to push English-language media to stop using the phrase ‘illegal immigrants; and now I see it more and more used in Spanish-language media. Clearly whoever is being hired to do this work now has no idea of the power involved in these semantics. Univision: why are you using ‘inmigrantes ilegales’?” 

On Wednesday morning, Latino Rebels reached out to Marrero to see if anyone at Univision had responded to her posts, and she said that nobody from the network had. When asked why she decided to call attention to this, she explained: “I decided to post it because I feel is incumbent to all of us in media who have worked in the past to set standards for the language we use on immigration, to try to keep those standards alive in the face of an anti-immigrant administration and environment. It seems in some Spanish-language media. those standards go away for whatever reason.”

“You cannot be a news outlet that purports to serve the immigrant community and ignore that for decades Spanish media didn’t use that terminology and that was done intentionally, while many fought to get mainstream outlets to change their use of pejorative terms for those that more accurately reflect reality,” Marrero continued. “There’s no such thing as an illegal immigrant, and I am aware that it’s the standard phrase in American law and order, but for media to use it without quotes and on its own it’s unconscionable. There are other more accurate and humane ways to refer to someone who is here without authorization. Words have power, particularly those that refer to people. We must be responsible as communicators.”

Latino Rebels did reach out to Univision Noticias about the Facebook Live post and why the term was used.

According to José Zamora, senior vice president of strategic communications for Univision Noticias, it was human error.

“In Univision we use the term ‘undocumented immigrant’ because we believe that any other term dehumanizes people, in addition to being linguistically wrong and inaccurate. In a text written on one of our Facebook transmissions on July 1, 2019, the word ‘illegal’ was used. That case and any other instance in which this term has been used by members of our team are human errors that should not have occurred and for which we apologize,” Zamora said in a statement to Latino Rebels. “In addition to never purposefully using the term, we have spent several years explaining the importance of using the term ‘undocumented immigrant’ instead of any other option, since no human being is illegal.”

The network has had a history of not using the term. For instance, anchor Jorge Ramos has tweeted several times that “no human being is illegal” and has also made appearances on national television to emphasize this point.

However, a search of “inmigrantes ilegales” on the Univision website shows that the network and its affiliate stations have used the term in the past, some as recently as this year.

The clearest examples of the term come mostly from local Univision newscasts. The following screen grab is from a 2018 report out of San Antonio.

This is a 2016 screen grab from Houston.

For years, organizations such as the National Association of Hispanic Journalists have called on all U.S.-based media outlets to stop using the term “illegal immigrants.”


Julio Ricardo Varela is founder and publisher of Latino Rebels, part of Futuro Media. He tweets from @julito77.