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New York City's anti-discrimination policy warns against terms like "illegal alien"

New York City has updated its legal guidelines on behavior that violates a ban on discrimination based on a person's national origin or immigration status. Among other things, the city says "use of the terms 'illegal alien' and 'illegals,' with the intent to demean, humiliate, or offend a person or persons in the workplace, amounts to unlawful discrimination."

Offenders can be fined up to $250,000 for each violation if they discriminate in employment, housing or other public facilities.

"We take immense pride in our city's diversity and the immigrant communities that call New York City home," said Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson 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. "

The city's Commission on Human Rights — the agency dedicated to enforcing the New York City Human Rights Law — released the updated rules last week dealing with discrimination on the basis of perceived or actual immigration status and national origin in public accommodations, employment and housing.  

The commission's guidance also states that harassing or discriminating against someone for their use of another language or their limited English proficiency, or threatening to call ICE on a person based on a discriminatory motive, are considered to be violations of the law.

The protections also extend to people using private and public facilities, including businesses such as restaurants, fitness clubs, stores, nightclubs and other public spaces. 

Fines of up to $250,000 can be assessed for each act of willful discrimination, the commission said, adding that damages are available to complainants.

The commission provided some specific examples of how the guidelines would apply. For instance, violations could include:

  • Harassing a restaurant patron because of their accent;
  • Refusing to make repairs on an apartment occupied by an immigrant family and threatening to call ICE if they complain;
  • Paying a lower wage or withholding wages to workers because of their immigration status;
  • Harassing a store customer by telling them to stop speaking their language and demanding they speak English.

The commission noted that 3.2 million New York City residents were born outside of the United States, representing 37% of the city's population.

"The New York City Human Rights Law is one of the most protective in the nation," said Carmelyn P. Malalis, commissioner and chair of the Commission on Human Rights. "It protects everyone, regardless of their immigration status." 

"In the face of increasingly hostile national rhetoric, we will do everything in our power to make sure our treasured immigrant communities are able to live with dignity and respect, free of harassment and bias," she added.

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