This past weekend, the retailer Target agreed to take its “illegal alien” costumes off the shelves after receiving several complaints from immigrant rights advocates. Americans for Legal Immigration PAC’s President William Gheen quickly jumped in and has offered to appear on television and conduct interviews while wearing the costume in protest. Gheen, whose self proclaimed rallying cry is “Illegals Go Home!,” perceives the controversy as an attack on free speech, and hopes the demand for the costumes will rise and quickly lead to sold out inventories.
Gheen is offensive enough when he appears in public dressed as himself. Gheen has gone out of his way to use hateful vitriol and fear-mongering rhetoric to impart meaning on a term that is deliberately used to degrade an entire population. The American Defamation League (ADL) criticizes Gheen for demonizing “immigrants as drunk drivers, gang members, invaders, murderers, and disease-carriers.” He’s also gone as far as to compare undocumented immigrants to Hitler, explaining “this time Americans are the Jews and the illegal aliens and their supporters are the Nazis.” At a rally in 2007, Gheen told a North Carolina crowd that “illegal aliens” have “set up ethnic cleansing zones where if you walk past the wrong sign post, the invisible line, you’re under the threat of death.” He also blamed the presence of bedbugs, tuberculosis, and Chagas disease on what he perceives as a lax immigration policy. In other words, it’s people like Gheen who make a costume consisting of an orange jump suit, space alien mask, and fake green card controversial, if not downright offensive.
The National Hispanic Journalists Association has been urging media outlets to stop using the term “illegal alien” because it doesn’t “give an accurate description of a person’s conditional U.S. status, but rather demeans an individual by describing them as an alien.” Angelica Salas, Executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, called the costume “distasteful, mean-spirited, and ignorant of social stigmas and current debate on immigration reform.”
Meanwhile, Think Progress reports that this morning, the hosts of Fox and Friends “couldn’t get enough of the costume.” Steve Doocy wondered where America’s sense of humor was and Brian Kilmeade called the costume “fantastic,” and urged undocumented immigrants who are offended by the costume to go to their local police station and tell them how outraged they are as “illegal aliens.” Michael Steele also appeared on Univision’s Al Punto this weekend defending his use of the term.
Gheen has posted an updated press release announcing that the “illegal alien” costumes have sold out thanks to his publicity. Gheen has listed his own costume on eBay in order to “raise awareness and funds to fight against illegal immigration and Amnesty for illegals.”