NAPLES — Subtlety isn’t the strong suit of modern Halloween costumes.
Take the Spirit of Halloween store in Gulf Coast Town Center, where choices range from “Tequila Pop’N Dude,” who wears a bandolier of eight shot glasses, to “Firefighter with Big Hose,” a character that straddles, well, a big firehose.
Some immigration and minority advocates, however, say a new costume riffing on undocumented immigrants goes too far.
Spirit of Halloween removed the “Illegal Alien” costume from its 725 stores across the nation, including those in Fort Myers and North Naples.
Other companies, including Target, Walgreens and eBay have removed the costume from their inventory. The issue arose Friday, when the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights in Los Angeles first criticized the outfit.
The costume depicts a space alien wearing an orange jumpsuit stenciled with the words “Illegal Alien.” A “Green Card” is pasted on the front of the jumpsuit.
“It’s a disgrace,” said Sister Maureen Kelleher, a managing attorney at Legal Aid.
“I believe it creates an environment not friendly to illegal immigrants to the community,” said Leonardo Garcia, president and CEO of the Hispanic American Business Alliance.
Some customers say the costume is harmless fun. An immigration reform advocate didn’t see any problems, either.
“I looked at the costume and thought it was kind of funny, said William Gheen, head of the North Carolina-based political action committee Americans for Legal Immigration. “The only thing that wasn’t funny was how many illegal immigrants are in this country.”
The outspoken Gheen has given speeches suggesting Latin Americans are bringing an epidemic of tuberculosis to the U.S., despite government figures showing the illness is at an all-time low.
Spirit of Haloween district manager William Williamson didn’t give a reason the costumes were pulled, but an employee at the Gulf Coast Town Center store said the move was in response to complaints.
Williamson said the costumes were less popular before they came the subject of news stories.
“They’re more popular now that we don’t have them on the shelf,” he said. “People want to see them and buy them.”
Target has said it sold the costume online only and that it was posted by accident though 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.”
Kelleher, at Legal Aid, said undocumented people have benefited society by performing labor otherwise undesirable to most people.
“This is so incredible that costumes like these for children would obviously be singling out people and provoking discrimination and hate,” she said.
Kelleher also took umbrage to the term “illegal alien.”
Gheen, the immigration reform advocate, said federal law uses the term and called controversy over the phrase a “battle over psycholinguistics.”
Several customers inside the Spirit of Halloween at Gulf Coast Town Center said they had not heard of the costume, and a few shrugged when told of the controversy.
“It’s a costume. They need to get over it,” offered Corey Lawrence, 22.
Nick Sazenski, 15, visiting family from his home in Tipperarry, Ireland, laughed when told about the costume.
“I think that’s funny,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with it. They’re too sensitive.”
Fitness instructor Chrissy Kunz, 38, said she was “on the fence” about whether the costume was a problem.
“Because I could see where it would be offensive,” she said. “At the same time, it’s kind of funny.”
Kunz, who was looking for related costumes for herself and five coworkers, drew a distinction between costumes that are inappropriate -- she cited a few of the racier costumes at Spirit of Halloween -- and those that are offensive, such as the “Illegal Alien.”
“I’m glad they pulled it from the shelves,” she decided.