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A potential Regents question refers to ‘illegal aliens.’ A petition says that’s racist.

A potential Regents exam question that refers repeatedly to "illegal aliens" has drawn accusations of racism.
A potential Regents exam question that refers repeatedly to "illegal aliens" has drawn accusations of racism.
Alan Petersime/Chalkbeat

An online petition accuses the New York Regents of racism and bias, pointing to a potential graduation exam question that repeatedly refers to “illegal aliens.”

The question appeared on a pilot test, which is used to measure the validity of questions that could ultimately appear on the state’s graduation exams. The petition calls the language potentially “damaging to students.”

“It is unacceptable that in current times outdated and xenophobic language is used on an official state sanctioned exam that thousands of students with immigrant backgrounds will take,” the petition reads.

A spokesman for the state education department said the U.S. History exam would still need to undergo field testing before gaining final approval. He added that the question now being challenged was vetted by “dozens” of teachers in the state. But now that the question is public, it cannot be used on a future test.

“A central theme of social studies is analyzing historical documents and determining how they reflect the thinking of the time – even if that thinking is not in line with today’s thinking,” he wrote.

The question cites a 1986 New York Times story, which describes a federal law that made it “unlawful for employers to hire illegal aliens.” The potential answers also repeatedly use the phrase, which, more than 30 years on, is often deployed by anti-immigrant advocates.

Most news organizations, including the New York Times, now avoid that description, using “illegal” to describe actions and not people.

Launched this week, the petition has garnered almost 140 signatures, with a goal of reaching 200.

Other Regents questions have drawn ire in the past, such as a cartoon on the 2017 exams that some slammed as anti-Israeli.

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