Tue, October 27, 2009
World > Americas > Halloween 2009

"Illegal Alien" Halloween costume arouses controversy in U.S.

2009-10-23 01:34:39 GMT2009-10-23 09:34:39 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) -- As Halloween draws near, shops are selling Halloween costumes for children to play "trick or treat," but at least two "Illegal Alien" costumes have aroused controversy in the United States.

The "Illegal Alien Adult Costume" was manufactured by Forum Novelties, a manufacturer of novelty gifts. It has an orange jumpsuit similar to prison garb with "Illegal Alien" stamped in black across the chest, a space alien mask and a fake Green Card.

The "Illegal Alien Mask with Hat" includes a space alien mask with a dark handlebar mustache and a baseball cap.

Description of the costumes reads: "He didn't just cross a border, he crossed a galaxy! He's got his green card, but it's from another planet! Sure to get some laughs."

Civil and immigrant rights groups immediately took actions since last week to ask retailers of the "illegal alien" costumes to stop selling them.

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) wrote a letter last week asking several retailers, including Target, Walgreens and Amazon.com, to stop offering the costume.

Target and other sellers immediately took down the products either from their web sites or from the shelves. Target said the "Illegal Alien" costume was inadvertently uploaded to its web site due to a data entry error.

"It is never our intent to offend the consumers with the products we offer," Target said in a statement.

However, the issue is not over.

Angelica Salas, executive director of CHIRLA, said that it was " distasteful, mean-spirited and ignorant of social stigmas and current debate on immigration reform."

CHIRLA Director of Public Relations Jorge-Mario Cabrera said he initially thought the costume was a stab at harmless satire. But when he saw the Green Card sign, he realized it was a swipe at illegal immigrants.

"This was an ignorant attempt to poke fun at a specific community," said Cabrera.

Guillermo Iglesias, an immigrant, said both of his parents were illegal immigrants in the U.S. and he felt the costumes were offensive because they depicted illegal immigrants as "not one of us."

He said he had a lot of illegal immigrant friends and if he showed them that costume, it would really hurt them.

But some Americans thought differently. William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration, said he intended to buy the costume, and called the reaction unfounded.

"The only people getting upset are the hyper-sensitive, over- politically correct, pro-amnesty, illegal alien-supporting nuts," he said. "You can't attack people's freedom in this country," he added.

"Look: It's just for fun," said Stephanie Lewis of the Halloween Costume World, a costume shop in New England, Massachusetts.

"We sell pregnant nuns and all sorts of things. It's just like a joke, no one's trying to make fun of anyone," she added.

There are different interpretations between satire and freedom of speech and strong differences in opinion on the terms of illegal aliens.

Most immigrant advocates considered "illegal alien" an offensive phrase. Although the word alien has been used in American law since the 18th century to describe a non-citizen, not necessarily one here illegally, the word took on new connotations in popular science fiction of the past century.

"I think it's a social commentary on the absurdity of calling undocumented workers illegal aliens," said Cabrera. "Whether it's tasteful or not, I think the consumers will have to decide," he added.

"The costume is a sick sign of the times we are living in this country where those who are not 'people like us' might as well be from another planet and are considered less than human," an anonymous customer wrote on the web site.

Amalia Pallares, associate professor of Political Science & Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wrote on the web site that the "illegal alien" costume was a teaching, not a laughing matter.

"I have found the silver lining in a very dark cloud. The illegal alien costume sold online by Target and Walgreens has, in its profound despicability, provided me with an opportunity to teach my children about the value of truth and human dignity," wrote Pallares.

"What I will tell my children that we don't get to do is mock the experiences of millions of members of our communities by perpetuating the lies and stereotypes as reflected in the illegal alien costume," Pallares continued.

He wrote that while some had observed that the extraterrestrial mask dehumanizes undocumented immigrants, perhaps even more dehumanizing was the creation of a generic costume that suggested that all undocumented immigrants were not only criminals but that they were all the same, indistinguishable.

The "funny" part was the combination of an obviously fake green card that could not disguise the alien status, which was evident in the mask, he wrote.

The "alien" was simultaneously trying to slip one by but not smart enough to outwit the state, and was therefore imprisoned, Pallares continued.

"I will tell my sons that these people were human, not alien, that their lives were as valuable as any others and that their tragic deaths should never be forgotten, not even on trick or treat day," wrote the professor.

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