If you call someone an “illegal alien” in New York City, prepare to pony up big time. The city announced a new $250,000 fine for anyone using the term among others “with intent to demean, humiliate, or harass a person.” 

Speech codes and punitive damages for expressing unfashionable views are common on college campuses, but now they’re moving to urban areas and we should be concerned.

The NYC Commission on Human Rights aims recently released new legal enforcement guidance that “defines discrimination on the basis of perceived or actual immigration status and national origin under the New York City Human Rights Law in public accommodations, employment, and housing.” They even included some examples such as “Harassing a store customer by telling them to stop speaking their language and demanding they speak English.”

As an official in the mayor’s office said in her glowing review of the regulations which they helped to craft, this is an effort to “combat the federal government’s rhetoric of fear and xenophobic policies that have threatened the health and well-being of immigrant communities.”

Here’s what wrong with the whole effort.

  1. “Illegal alien” is not a slur. According to the Department of Homeland Security, an “alien” is defined as “any person not a citizen or national of the United States” Illegal describes their status. If undocumented is a little more palatable, perhaps we ought to call them undocumented aliens or undocumented immigrants. However, a name doesn't change their status or place of birth.

  2. Discrimination is already illegal and has been for years. New York City acknowledges that discrimination on the basis of immigration status and national origin has been illegal in New York City for decades. It’s also illegal according to federal law to discriminate or harass based on national origin. Why do we need new regulations?

  3. How can you prove intent? The challenge will be proving the intent of how someone uses the term. If an illegal immigrant goes to a landlord asking to rent a room and the landlord asks ‘are you an illegal immigrant?' and then denies that person the room, because of his status, has he just opened himself up for a lawsuit?

  4. This could spur a lawsuit bonanza. This is a move to give lawyers for illegal aliens fighting landlords, employers and random strangers more ammunition in discrimination cases. Discriminating against someone based on where they were born is wrong and illegal. Imagine how much more litigious the city could become as perceived slights become the grounds for lawsuits against restaurants, strangers riding the subway, landlords, and more.

  5. The left wants to make “illegal alien” the same as the n-word. There are terms that are truly despicable, which as a society we have banished from common vernacular like the n-word. There’s a bloody, violent, discriminatory history behind the n-word. The same can’t and shouldn’t be said about illegal alien and it’s insulting to equate the two.

I was not born in the United States, so I was an “alien” — not from Mars but from another country. The difference is that I came here legally. As a legal immigrant, I am not offended by the term illegal alien because I recognize it refers to those who are living in the U.S. without documentation.

A big motivation by the left is to lump illegal aliens in with legal immigrants to make them seem more sympathetic. We are not the same.

Illegal immigrants–for the most part–made a decision to break the law to come to the U.S. compared with those who did so legally by applying and securing approval. It's unfair to those who have applied and are waiting for years – even decades – for their chance to come to America that others will skip the line and break the law. Illegal immigration undermines our entire immigration system and poses challenges for our communities.

The U.S. is extremely open to immigrants welcoming over 1 million immigrants each year. Of the about 46 million immigrants living in this country 34 million of us are here legally, that’s the majority of aliens. The problem is the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are living here illegally, whether because they overstayed their visas or crossed at the Southern Border.

Enforcing our immigration laws to stem the flow of illegal immigrants is legal and right. It’s not xenophobic, but about ensuring public safety and our national interests. 

It’s imperative that Congress fix our immigration system and find ways to close loopholes in the law that are being exploited.

Banning words is a distraction, not a solution.

New York City ought to worry about the many other problems caused by illegal immigration such as overcrowding of schools, use of public assistance, gangs, violence, and undercutting of wages for low-skilled workers. 

Read More:

Policy Focus: Addressing America’s Immigration Challenges