Column: NYC ban on “Illegal Alien” sets a double standard

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Courtesy of Creative Commons

Brittany Mendez, opinion editor

As of last month, it is a crime in New York City to use the term “illegal alien” in a discriminatory manner or threaten to call immigration officials on someone based on their actual or perceived immigration status. However, no legal consequences have ever existed to deter people from using more severe derogatory language, most notably — the N-word.

According to NYC Commission on Human Rights, “It is illegal for a person’s employer, coworkers, or housing provider such as landlords to use derogatory or offensive terms to intimidate, humiliate, or degrade people, including by using the term ‘illegal alien,’ where its use is intended to demean, humiliate, or offend another person.” A violation of this policy can result in a fine up to $250,000

While the intent behind this law is to deter discrimination against immigrants, especially given the current political climate, this policy is quite problematic. 

Everyone knows the first amendment protects the right to free speech, but the lines are blurred when these words are threatening. Hate speech, or speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of their identity, is not protected by the Constitution, even on college campuses

However, putting aside the constitutionality of the policy, it creates a double standard for other terms that are arguably more derogatory. It is even more troublesome that derogatory terms against other marginalized groups are completely ignored. 

The law bans this language in places of “employment, housing, and public spaces such [as] stores, hospitals, and movie theaters.” So what’s the likelihood of such a policy existing on a college campus? These policies actually already exist on many campuses, including Northeastern, through the code of conduct. FIRE is a speech code rating system which gives Northeastern a red light, indicating the institution has “at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” Like the New York ban, the NU code of conduct does in fact prohibit discriminatory speech against an individual’s identity. However, unlike the code of conduct, the New York ban does not broadly protect all marginalized groups. 

The lack of protection for all potential targets of discrimination emphasizes how such laws are so heavily politically motivated. If legislators genuinely want to protect those most vulnerable to discrimination, they would have modeled the law after a college code of conduct. 

In the event of such discrimination, NU is obliged to protect its students and take action to resolve it. Just this summer, fascist pamphlets were found in Snell Library and the university took action in response to their discovery in accordance with the code of conduct. 

While New York’s anti-discrimination policy aims to protect vulnerable individuals, it sends a clear message that other marginalized groups are not as valued. African Americans are continuously the most oppressed group in America and no similar action has ever been taken to protect them from discrimination. New York has the highest population of African Americans in the nation, yet its liberal policymakers continue to turn a blind eye to their struggles. 

According to Forbes, New York is the eighth most liberal city in the country and has consistently voted Democratic since 1988. Time and time again liberals claim to care about the struggles faced by African Americans, but their policies say otherwise. Politicians from both sides of the aisle have failed and continue to fail African Americans. From the three-fifths compromise in 1787, to Jim Crow in the ’70s, to modern day incarceration laws and police brutality — America fails to protect African Americans. This case, though more subtle, is no different.

All marginalized groups deserve protection, yet the most vulnerable remain forgotten.