Stores pull immigrant-slurring Halloween costume after protests

After a nationwide campaign by immigrant advocacy groups calling an “illegal alien” Halloween costume tasteless and offensive, several major retail stores and Web sites have pulled it from their racks.

The costume, made by Forum Novelties Inc., includes a bright orange jumpsuit similar to prison garb, with the words “ILLEGAL ALIEN” stamped across the chest. A “green card” and a space alien mask also come with it.

Many immigrant rights activists said the costume is demeaning and discriminatory, making undocumented workers appear not human and alien-like.

Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a leader of Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights in Los Angeles, told The Associated Press the costume “perpetuates this idea we have about undocumented immigrants as alien foreigners, strangers and scary.”

Cabrera noted that the jumpsuit resembles what immigrants wear in detention centers where they spend months at a time enduring constant suffering and separation from their families.

“That the creature was holding a green card was a stab at a community,” he said, because it suggests that even with a legal document (green card), immigrants are still scary criminals.

Teresa Puente, a blogger at Chicago Now, wrote, “Costumes like these are just as offensive as one of a Sambo or a Chinaman.” She added, “We should move beyond making fun of those images that exploit cultural stereotypes. To exploit these images is racist.”

Jorge Mujica, an immigrant rights activist running for Congress in Chicago, said the costume makes a mockery of the status of millions of immigrants in need of immigration reform.

Joshua Hoyt, with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, is urging a boycott of the stores and company that continue to sell and produce the costume.

“When a corporation dehumanizes immigrants, the best thing is to stop buying from it,” he told the Chicago Tribune.

Target, Toys R Us, Walgreens, Meijer, Amazon and eBay have removed the costume from their inventory.

In a statement Target said, “It was never our intent to offend the consumers with products we offer.” Target said it originally sold the costume online only and that it was posted by accident though it did not meet company standards.

EBay said it asked sellers to remove the costume because it “does not allow items that promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual, or religious intolerance, or promote organizations with such views.”

Walgreens spokeswoman Vivika Vergara said the costume was never in its stores and was pulled from its Website. “We received feedback from customers and decided it was best to stop carrying it so it would not be subject to varied interpretation,” she told the Chicago Tribune.

Other offensive Halloween caricatures on the market include an extraterrestrial mask with a thick black mustache and a baseball cap, and a “sexy illegal alien” costume that includes a metallic mini-dress, a poncho trimmed with a pompom fringe, matching sombrero, handcuffs and “alien” sunglasses.

The Boston Globe in an editorial, said depictions like these play on vague fears of – and misconceptions about – immigrants.

“There is always a danger of reading too much into a Halloween mask that was intended to be funny,” said the Globe. “Then again, under the guise of humor, anti-immigrant cartoons in the United States once fueled stereotypes about Irish Americans, Italian Americans, and other groups. Someone though they were funny and harmless, too.” The Globe commented, “If the aim was political satire, the joke falls flat.”

Immigrant rights supporters say some people don’t understand what’s offensive about the controversial term “illegal alien.”

“First of all, human beings are not aliens,” writes Puente. “The phrase itself derives from a government label.”

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists has asked news organizations to not use the term “illegals” and to instead use “undocumented immigrants.”

“It casts them as adverse, strange beings, inhuman outsiders who come to the U.S. with questionable motivations,” says the association. “Aliens is a bureaucratic term that should be avoided unless used in a quote.”

Many major media organizations, including The Associated Press, no longer use the term “illegal alien” unless quoting an individual or government text. The AP stylebook, followed by almost all news organizations in the U.S., advises news agencies to use “illegal immigrant” instead of “illegal alien” or “undocumented worker.”

Yet many, including NAHJ, say “illegal immigrant” is also offensive.

“It’s disturbing that someone would make fun of people who immigrate to the United States and who are undocumented,” writes Puente. “That anybody would make or buy this Halloween costume is truly scary,” she said.

Photo: UFW