NEW YORK — Merchants who demand their customers speak English could be fined as much as $250,000 under New York City’s human rights law, city officials said Wednesday.
The law also bars employers, landlords and business owners from calling someone an “illegal alien” or threatening to call federal immigration authorities, according to new legal guidance from the city’s Commission on Human Rights.
Officials say the law offers some of the nation’s strongest protections against discrimination based on immigration status and national origin in housing, the workplace and public accommodations such as stores, restaurants, schools and gyms.
“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,” Human Rights Commission Chair Carmelyn P. Malalis said in a statement. “Today’s guidance makes abundantly clear that there is no room for discrimination in NYC.”
The commission said it is already investigating seven cases in which tenants were threatened with action from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. One of them involves a Queens landlord whom a judge fined $17,000 for threatening to call ICE on a tenant if she did not pay her rent, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The commission’s guidance, released Wednesday, details what constitutes banned discrimination based on “actual or perceived” citizenship status or national origin. It notes that about 3.2 million New Yorkers — more than a third of the city’s population — were born outside the United States.
A store owner would violate the law if he tells two shoppers speaking Thai to “speak English” and “go back to your country,” the guidance says. Forcings prospective tenants who appear not to be U.S. citizens to put down six months of rent as a security deposit while only requiring one month’s rent from those thought to be citizens would also be illegal, according to the commission.
Each discriminatory act could come with a fine of up to $250,000, and people who complain can receive damages, city officials said.
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