New York City employers, landlords and store owners who tell someone to “go back to your country” could soon face fines of up to $250,000, a rule included in a new set of guidelines from the city’s Commission on Human Rights.
Released on Sept. 25, the new guidelines uphold the city’s existing law on discrimination based on citizenship status, national origin and “alienage” in employment, housing and public accommodation, which came into effect in 1989.
Under the new guidelines, the commission, responsible for enforcing human-rights laws, could also seek fines if an employer, landlord or store owner threatens to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on an undocumented immigrant or someone perceived to be one.
Additionally, a fine may be imposed on an employer, landlord or store owner who uses the words “illegal” and “alien” against an individual with the intent to demean, humiliate or harass.
“The New York City Human Rights Law is one of the most protective in the nation,” NYC Commission on Human Rights Chair and Commissioner Carmelyn Malalis said in a press release.
“It protects everyone, regardless of their immigration status. 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. Today’s guidance makes abundantly clear that there is no room for discrimination in NYC.”
Commissioner Steve Choi, who also serves as executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, added, “All New Yorkers deserve to feel safe and secure in their workplace, their homes, and their neighborhoods, which is why we’re pleased to see The New York City Commission on Human Rights’ newly published legal enforcement guidance affirming our city’s steadfast commitment to protecting and defending the rights of immigrants.
“We reject discrimination in all of its ugly forms and look forward to working with the Commission to guarantee that immigrants have comprehensive legal protections and equal access to their rights.”
The New York City Human Rights Law, which also prohibits bias-based profiling by law enforcement, goes further than many U.S. municipalities in safeguarding rights in the workplace, schools and public accommodations.
It protects against both overt and subtle disparate treatment, which occurs when “a covered entity treats an individual less well than others because of a protected characteristic.”
Specific examples of violations under the new guidelines include:
- An employer refuses to accept a Social Security card and demands a birth certificate from a job applicant because the applicant speaks English with an accent.
- A landlord threatens to call ICE on an Indian family who finds cockroaches in their unit in a move to deter them from filing a complaint in housing court.
- A store owner tells two friends who are speaking Thai while shopping in his store to “speak English” and “go back to your country.”
The new guidelines come just after a New York City judge ordered a landlord to pay $5,000 in fines, $12,000 in damages and complete 50 hours of community service after threatening to call ICE on a tenant who reportedly failed to pay for her rent.
“It sets important case precedent for the interpretation of our Human Rights Law to include the weaponization of ICE to intimidate or harass someone in housing as a violation,” Sapna Raj, deputy commissioner for the law enforcement bureau of the city’s Commission on Human Rights, told CNN.
“We will not allow our city’s most vulnerable to be further marginalized out of fear for their safety in their own homes. Immigration status, citizenship, and national origin (perceived or actual) are protected categories under our law, and we will continue to fight to ensure those protections are enforced to the fullest extent.”
Anyone who believes to have been discriminated under the NYC Human Rights Law may call the commission at 718-722-3131 or dial 311 and ask for Human Rights. Alternatively, reports may be submitted anonymously on the commission’s website.