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New York City bans use of 'illegals' and 'illegal alien'

The new guidance reaffirms protections outlined by the New York City Human Rights Law.

Using the terms “illegal alien" or "illegals" with "intent to demean, humiliate or harass a person" in New York City is against the law and can result in fines as high as $250,000, according to new guidance from the city's Commission on Human Rights.

The guidance, which was issued Sept. 25, also makes it illegal to harass or discriminate against "someone for their use of another language or their limited English proficiency, and threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE ) on a person based on a discriminatory motive.”

“We take immense pride in our city’s diversity and the immigrant communities that call New York City home,” Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson said in a statement. “This new legal enforcement guidance will help ensure that no New Yorker is discriminated against based on their immigration status or national origin."

Approximately 37 percent of New York City residents were born outside of the United States, according to an annual report from the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. New York is also among the most linguistically diverse cities in the world, with hundreds of languages being spoken throughout the five boroughs.

While discrimination on the basis of immigration status and national origin has been illegal in the city for decades under the NYC Human Rights Law, this new guidance reaffirms these protections by providing specific examples of discrimination in housing, public accommodations and employment.

Some examples of discriminatory violations outlined in the guidance include paying a lower wage or withholding wages to workers because of their immigration status and harassing store customers by telling them to stop speaking their language and demanding they speak English.

The commission also announced that it is currently investigating four cases involving discrimination “based on threats to call ICE in order to harass, threaten or intimidate a victim” in conjunction with the new directives. One of these cases involves a landlord in Queens who sent menacing text messages to a tenant. According to the presiding judge's report, the landlord wrote in one of her messages: "It was fun and games when you calling DOB now it's fun and games calling immigration 12 times day. They can deport you."

Last month, Judge John B. Spooner recommended the landlord pay $17,000 for threatening to call ICE on an undocumented tenant in a case that laid the groundwork for the new directives.

Any NYC resident who believes they have faced discrimination can file an inquiry with the commission, who can then bring a case against an individual who's accused of violating the law, if it finds the allegations credible. The city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings adjudicates the cases.

“NYC has benefitted from a history rich with contributions from immigrant communities,” Cathy Albisa, commissioner for the New York City Commission on Human Rights, said in a statement. “We honor that history by making clear that abuse of any person based on their actual or perceived immigration status will not be tolerated here.”

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