Denver City and County Building

FILE PHOTO: The Denver City and County Building

The Denver City Council passed a pair of equity proposals Monday, modifying the city charter to remove the term “illegal alien” and add a provision to prohibit discrimination based on protective hairstyles.

Both proposals were passed unanimously without comment.

The first proposal will amend sections of the city code that use the term “illegal alien,” replacing it with “worker without authorization.”

Historically, the term “illegal alien” has been used to describe a person who is not a citizen or a national of the United States. However, many advocates have raised issue with the terminology in recent years, calling it offensive and dehumanizing.

“The term illegal alien criminalizes individuals, but it also dehumanizes our residents based solely on their immigration status,” said Atim Otii, director of the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, during a committee meeting.

Otii said the new terminology is person-centered and focuses on the context in which it is being used, since it is used in public service contracts regarding the employment of a person without work authorization.

In April, the state of Colorado passed similar legislation, replacing “illegal alien" with “worker without authorization” in public service contracts.

President Joe Biden’s administration has also moved away from the term “illegal alien,” instructing federal agencies, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection to use “undocumented citizen” instead.

“As I read contracts and I see that term ‘alien,’ it is a trigger for me,” Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval said. “Thank you for doing these things and holding this space; I think it’s so important.”

The second proposal will add protective hairstyles to Denver’s anti-discrimination ordinance.

This will prohibit discrimination in public education, employment, housing, public accommodations and advertising because of a person’s hair texture, hair type or a protective hairstyle.

This comes as society has begun to recognize that stigmas against hair texture and hairstyles perpetuate racism and racial biases, usually against people of African, Jewish, Latinx or Native American descent, said Darius Smith with the Anti-Discrimination Office.

“Society has used hair texture, hair types and protective hairstyles in conjunction with skin color to discriminate against people,” Smith said. “Communities suffer harmful discrimination in employment, housing, education … based upon long-standing race stereotypes.”

Colorado passed its own hair discrimination law in March 2020, the Crown Act, led by Rep. Leslie Herod who said she faced the issue when growing up, being told she had to straighten her hair to look professional or beautiful.

As of March 2021, eight states in the U.S. have passed their own Crown Acts to ban hair discrimination, according to Global Citizen.

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