It May Be a Crime to Say ‘Illegal Alien’ in NYC

If people use this phrase to describe undocumented residents, and they intend to “demean, humiliate or harass a person,” New York City officials may asses a fine of up to $250,000.

A related prohibition applies to anyone who threatens to call immigration officials, if the party has a “discriminatory motive.” Words have power in court as well, as outlined below.

To illustrate the new law, the NYC Commission on Human Rights lists examples like a landlord who threatens to call immigration after a family reports unsafe housing conditions, or a restaurant employee who tells people speaking a foreign language to “speak English or go home.”

In a statement, Mayor Bill De Blasio’s office said “We are proud to have worked with the NYC Commission on Human Rights to produce and release this important guidance as we combat the federal government’s rhetoric of fear and xenophobic policies that have threatened the health and well-being of immigrant communities.”

Words Have Power

Whoever came up with that old adage that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” obviously had never been verbally assaulted.

Words most definitely have power. They can build up, and they can tear down.

Furthermore, meaning often changes over time. For years, the Gadsden Flag (the snake with the “Don’t Tread on Me” script), which dates back to the Revolutionary War, was a symbol of patriotism to many. Now, it is a symbol of racism to many.

This issue does not just come up on the street and in the workplace. It comes up in court as well, and our attorneys deal with it quite frequently.

One of the best examples may be the difference between a car crash and a car accident. The difference may seem subtle, but in many situations, it is almost as significant as the difference between an undocumented worker and an illegal alien.

In vehicle collision claims, the a-word implies that the incident was unavoidable and inevitable. In most cases, that is not true.

Driver error causes almost 95 percent of the vehicle collisions in New York. This error could be behavioral, such as alcohol consumption, operational, such as driving while distracted, or environmental, such as driving too fast in a rainstorm.

For that reason, New York City and many other governments and organizations, including the Associated Press, no longer refer to vehicle collisions as car accidents.

They call them car crashes instead. After all, planes crash, trains wreck, and ships sink. It makes no sense for cars to have accidents.

On the other side, some advocates prefer the a-word. They feel it is accurate, in the sense that the collision was unintentional. Calling the incident a “crash,” implies otherwise, they argue.

But at the heart of it all, a vehicle collision or other negligence claim is not about blaming anyone for the injuries sustained.

We all make mistakes, and we all must accept the consequences of our mistakes. This same principle is true in other types of injury claims, such as medical malpractice, premises liability claims, like falls or dog bites, and environmental torts.

In everyday life, our lawyers do their best to avoid saying hateful words.

When they go to court, they avoid using words that may hurt our clients’ chances to obtain fair compensation.

Damages in Civil Rights Violation Claims

The NYC Commission on Human Rights decision not only indirectly affects court cases. It has a direct effect as well, mostly in the area of damages in a civil rights violation claim.

In the aforementioned negligence cases, damages are usually rather straightforward. Doctors testify about the injuries the victim/plaintiff sustained, the treatment the victim received, and the victim’s prognosis.

Some injuries, like head injuries, are more complex, but that’s the subject of a different blog.

Civil rights violation claims are much different. Many times, damages are difficult to establish. It is very hard to put a price tag on a person’s dignity.

But no one can turn back the clock and reverse the injury. And, courts only have the power to award money damages, in most cases.

Words hurt people, and at Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, we obtain fair compensation for these injuries. If you need help, speak with one of our experienced New York personal injury attorneys today.