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Does New York Legislation Now Ban A First Amendment Right To Discriminate By Calling Someone An Illegal Alien?

Recently a lot of right-wing websites (and others) have opened up a can of worms by describing New York’s new anti-discrimination laws as a blatant violation of first amendment rights. The law itself defines the discrimination policy as geared toward those who would call someone an “illegal alien” in order to “demean, humiliate or harass a person.” But guess what: harassment is already illegal, so you don’t have to worry about your first amendment rights being violated!

Especially since the new law isn’t about personal rights in the first place.

The new law now defines discimination “on the basis of perceived or actual immigration status and national origin under the New York City Human Right Law in public accommodations, employment and housing.” 

Although the law can certainly be interpreted to mean that individuals will be fined upwards of $250,000 for each time they’re heard calling someone an “illegal,” the point of the law is to prevent discrimination, plain and simple — especially in the workplace.

Here are a few things you can’t do (and never could): you cannot harass someone because they have a different accent. You cannot refuse service if you suspect someone is foreign born. You cannot threaten to call ICE. You cannot pay someone a lower wage (or withhold an already earned wage) from someone based on immigration status. You cannot harass someone in a store you frequent by demanding they speak a language other than the one they were speaking.

Again, all of these actions amounted to illegal activity before the law was passed. The reasoning for the new law is clear enough — people like to harass people they think are foreign born, and they’re not taking the hint that they cannot do that legally. Maybe now they will. You cannot harass people. You cannot discriminate someone based on ethnic origin. It’s been a long time since you legally could. Time to get over it.

It’s also worth noting that this is a “New York City Human Rights Law.” Of NYC’s 12 million people, 3 million were born outside the United States. And it protects everyone from wanton discimination, not just people who weren’t born here. 

Carmelyn P. Malalis, a commision for the law, said, “The New York City Human Rights Law is one of the most protective in the nation…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.”