USA

Dressing up as an "immigrant alien" for Halloween?

Political satire and Halloween often come hand in hand. Last year, one of the trendiest October 31 looks was undoubtedly that of Sarah Palin. As the US braces itself for a new Halloween season, one particular disguise has sparked an uproar: the “illegal alien” costume.

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The costume sold on Amazon.

Political satire and Halloween often come hand in hand. Last year, one of the trendiest October 31 looks was undoubtedly that of Sarah Palin. As the US braces gears up for a new Halloween season, one particular disguise has sparked an uproar: the “illegal alien” costume.

The controversial outfit – sold by most retail chains like Target and Walgreens - comes complete with a Guantanamo-style orange jumpsuit, a space alien mask and a wooden “green” card. The words "illegal alien" appear stamped on the chest.

Is it an innocent pun using space creatures and the legal term "alien", which refers to non-citizens of the US?

Many in the country don’t see it that way. A number of immigrant rights groups and Hispanic organisations protested loudly, even calling for a boycott of stores that have the costume on sale. Meanwhile, several conservative TV commentators like Lou Dobbs (CNN) sought to make light of the affair and invoked freedom of speech.

The costumes, priced at between 18 and 27 euros, were soon pulled off the shelves by cautious retail chains like Target and Walgreens, and websites like Amazon.com. “It is never our intent to offend consumers with the products we offer,” Target said in a statement, adding that they had started selling the disguise after a “data entry error”.

Alien masks also available

 

 

A second version of the costume, the "illegal alien mask with hat", is still available in some stores. While seemingly less offensive, it might take the stereotype a step further. Although it doesn’t include a jumpsuit or a green card, the long moustache pointing downwards has been seen by many as a direct reference to Mexicans.

“What seems like a simple joke really reinforces the stereotype that Latinos do not belong here”

Luis Martin-Cabrera is a professor of Latin American literature and culture at the University of California in San Diego.

I heard about the costumes from several girls in a Hispanic community where I work. Everyone was outraged by them and we immediately signed a petition demanding that stores stop selling them. What seems like a simple joke really reinforces the stereotype that Latinos do not belong here. The alien face points out to someone who doesn’t fit in, while the orange tracksuit clearly associates them with prison inmates. So in the end the costume is showing immigrants as people who are different and potentially criminals, despite the fact that the majority of Hispanics in the country are legal and law-abiding citizens.

Freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment in the US Constitution, but if you look at it you will find that it warns against speech that is discriminatory in any way. It cannot be based on the differentiation and exclusion of others.

This comes at a very sensitive moment for the Hispanic community in the US, as reform of immigration laws is expected. Detentions of Hispanics in the country have increased dramatically in recent months. Racial profiling is on the rise, with Latinos often stopped by police just because they speak Spanish or have a darker complexion. When President Obama was elected, one of the community’s demands was that raids on undocumented workers and harassment against Latinos cease. However this year the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency saw its budget increased and its field of action expanded further.