National Association of Hispanic Journalists "particularly troubled" by the practiceA headline in today's Tennessean features the word "illegal" as a noun. In March 2006, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists called for the media to discontinue such usage:
"As protesters march in the streets and debate intensifies in Congress over how to fix the nation’s immigration laws, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists calls on our nation’s news media to use accurate terminology in its coverage of immigration and to stop dehumanizing undocumented immigrants."
"NAHJ is concerned with the increasing use of pejorative terms to describe the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States. NAHJ is particularly troubled with the growing trend of the news media to use the word 'illegals' as a noun, shorthand for 'illegal aliens'. Using the word in this way is grammatically incorrect and crosses the line by criminalizing the person, not the action they are purported to have committed. NAHJ calls on the media to never use 'illegals' in headlines."
"Shortening the term in this way also stereotypes undocumented people who are in the United States as having committed a crime. Under current U.S. immigration law, being an undocumented immigrant is not a crime, it is a civil violation. Furthermore, an estimated 40 percent of all undocumented people living in the U.S. are visa overstayers, meaning they did not illegally cross the U.S. border."
The underling story in the Tennessean did not contain the usage of the word "illegal" as a noun, except in a direct quote. Newspaper headlines are often written by copywriters or other newspaper personnel and not the reporter.
Source: National Association of Hispanic Journalists press release