Immigration Reform 2014: Mexican Food Chain Asked to Drop ‘Illegal’ from Name

October 27, 2014 Updated: October 27, 2014

Some Colorado residents are urging a Mexican burrito chain called Illegal Pete’s to remove the “Illegal” part of its name due to the connotations it carries.

They say that the word “illegal” is used to describe undocumented immigrants, suggesting that the name is offensive.

The Coloradan newspaper reported that approximately 30 people gathered in Fort Collins Wednesday to ask the chain’s owner, Pete Turner, to change the name of the chain.

The move is part of a US-wide campaign to remove the “illegal,” or “I-word,” from “illegal immigrants,” saying the term is dehumanizing.

Turner, however, said that the name of his chain doesn’t have anything to do with immigration.

He said it is in reference to a novel that he read in college. He said he’s committed to “inclusive” business and helped pay for some of his employees to become US citizens.

“This is all very near and dear to me,” he added, according to the paper.

“Social context is hugely important,” Fort Collins immigration attorney and the meeting moderator, Kim Medina, was quoted as saying. “We’ll never get to big issues, such as immigration reform, until we can solve these smaller issues of language.”

“Using the word illegal when you are referring to a human being is dehumanizing and it is offensive,” Cheryl Distaso, who is the coordinator of the social justice nonprofit Fort Collins Community Action Network, told CBS Local.

“Messages range from heartfelt personal stories about what it was like growing up in Fort Collins with ‘No Dogs and Mexicans’ signs in the downtown area, in the very same place the restaurant is going to be built,” she added.

Some said that the “illegal” term is similar to the racial slur used against African-Americans or using a Confederate flag in the restaurant’s window. 

“If someone uses (a racial slur directed at African Americans), then they are breaking some relatively recent mores that we don’t use that word,” said David Firth, a consultant based in Loveland, Colo., told the paper. “I hadn’t been aware that ‘illegal’ had reached that status,” he added.

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AP update: White House says immigration plans not final yet  

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Wednesday cautioned against making assumptions about President Barack Obama’s changes to immigration rules based on a new federal contract proposal from the Homeland Security Department to buy enough supplies to make as many as 34 million immigrant work permits and residency cards over the next five years.

The Associated Press reported earlier in the day the contract proposal suggested that the Obama administration appeared to be preparing for an increase in the number work permit applications form ofimmigrants living illegally in the country. The U.S. government produces about 3 million work permits and residency identification, known as green cards, annually. The new contract for at least 5 million cards a year would provide the administration with the flexibility to issue far more work permits or green cards even if it chose not to exercise that option.

“I think those who are trying to read into those specific orders about what the president may decide are a little too cleverly trying to divine what the president’s ultimate conclusion might be,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “What I would caution you against is making assumptions about what will be in those announcements based on the procurement practices of the Department of Homeland Security.”

Earnest did not say whether Obama plans to issue more work permits.

Obama announced earlier this year that if Congress didn’t pass immigration legislation, he would act on his own. After twice postponing a final decision, he said as recently as last month that he would hold off on executive actions until after November’s midterm elections.

The administration has repeatedly declined to say what options Obama was considering, but it is widely believed that he will expand protections from deportation already extended to more than 500,000 youngimmigrants who came to the United States as children. Under that program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, many young immigrants who are in school or who have graduated and don’t have a criminal record can win protection from deportation for up to two years. They are also eligible for work permits.

The president does not have the legal authority unilaterally to offer immigrants living in the country illegally green cards or any other permanent immigration status. But administration officials have said the president can authorize protection from deportation for immigrants on a case-by-case basis, such as with the DACA program, and issue them work permits.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez told an audience at a Georgetown University Law Center conference Tuesday that his agency was ready for whatever immigration changes Obama may announce. He declined to provide details.