Illegal Alien costume turns into bizarre free speech issue

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Jun 26, 2015, 2:50 PM EDT

Immigrant advocates are urging retailers to pull a Halloween costume depicting a space creature in orange prison garb emblazoned with the words "illegal alien," while a group that supports strict immigration laws says such a move impinges on freedom of speech, MSNBC reported.

Since Friday, when the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights in Los Angeles first raised the issue, companies including Target, Walgreens and eBay have removed the costume from their inventory. Still, many local retailers continue to stock the costume that also comes with a "green" card—which technically makes the alien legal.

Target has said it sold the costume online only and that it was posted by accident because it did not meet the company's standards. eBay said it asked sellers to remove the costume because it "does not allow items that promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual, or religious intolerance, or promote organizations with such views."

But William Gheen, head of the North Carolina-based political action committee Americans for Legal Immigration, said efforts to get stores not to sell the costume amounted to an attack on freedom of speech. He urged Americans to buy the costumes in protest.

Beyond the holiday uproar, the dispute highlights the controversial nature of the phrase "illegal alien"—still the government's official term for those in the country without a visa, though many national politicians and media increasingly avoid using it. Many major media organizations, including the Associated Press, no longer use the term "illegal alien" unless quoting an individual or official statute.