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Think you know the difference between criminal aliens and undocumented immigrants?

It's become apparent we may need a refresher course on human versus non-human beings.

During the vice presidential debate on Oct. 4, 2016, Republican candidate Mike Pence referred to undocumented immigrants as "criminal aliens" at least three times.

When the topic turned to immigration, moderator Elaine Quijano asked Pence what he would tell undocumented immigrants who have not committed violent crimes and wish to stay in this country. That's when he uttered a two-word phrase that needs to quickly be removed from our shared vocabulary: "criminal aliens."

GIF from PBS Newshour.


Look, we get it. It's hard! Despite years of activists working to disassociate the word "alien" (and "illegal") from immigrants, sometimes your eyes don't work properly or you're real tired or something, and law-breaking extraterrestrial beings do look a whole lot like human beings just looking for a better life for themselves.

But have no fear. We're here to help you tell them apart!

This is a criminal alien. He's from outer space.

GIF from "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial."

He's from another planet, and he's running away from the cops. Technically, he also just kidnapped a bunch of kids on bikes.

This is an undocumented immigrant. She's doing homework.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

She's a high school sophomore and, like many high school students, she's doing her homework. She came to America with her family in 2000. Her dad works in construction.

The majority of undocumented immigrants say their number one reason for coming to the U.S. is to find a better life, inspired by the promise of the American dream.

This is a criminal alien. He's under arrest.

GIF from "Man of Steel."

His name is Zod and he's a former Kryptonian general. He's also definitely not from planet Earth. He was accused of treason and banished to the Phantom Zone. When he escaped, he tried to destroy Superman and take Earth down in the process. So, yeah, he's not very nice.

These guys are undocumented immigrants. They're also brothers. They helped with cleanup efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

Undocumented Mexican laborers Hermenegildo, Juan, Amadeo, and Juan Sanchez take English lessons in a church shelter for migrant workers in New Orleans. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

These brothers traveled together from their hometown of Paso Amapa, Mexico, to New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck. They, like many others, came to the area to help with much of the cleanup work in the wake of the storm.

These are criminal aliens. They're from Mars.

Image from "Mars Attacks!" ©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection.

They tried to invade Earth in the 1996 movie "Mars Attacks!" and unlike undocumented immigrants, their heads explode when they hear the song "Indian Love Call."

This is a group of immigrants. They're eating dinner.

Immigrants at the Casa Del Migrante shelter, part of the Coalicion Pro Defensa, which aids immigrants and asylum applicants seeking entry into the United States. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

As of 2014, just over half of all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are Mexican. Believe it or not, the estimated number of immigrants moving from Mexico to America has decreased since 2009, down from 6.4 million to 5.8 million in 2014.

This is a criminal alien. He's in a police lineup.

GIF from "Guardians of the Galaxy."

His name is Groot and he is an extraterrestrial being. He was arrested with the other "Guardians of the Galaxy" after he and his friend Rocket Racoon tried to capture another alien named Gamora, who was trying to take the Cosmic Cube from a human named Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord. Their story, while exciting, is a work of fiction.

This is an undocumented immigrant. She's a mom,  a community activist for immigration rights, and a small business owner.

Undocumented Mexican immigrant Jeanette Vizguerra holds her 3-month-old daughter Zury. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

She came to America with her husband in the late '90s, and all three of her children were born here and are American citizens. Research shows that first generation immigrants commit less crime than native-born Americans. When it comes to second generation immigrants, the crime rate increases, but doesn't exceed the crime rate among native-born Americans, which makes sense, because a second generation immigrant was, most likely, born here.

This is a criminal alien. He's under serious arrest.

Image via ©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection.

His name is Loki and he's both a frost giant and an Asgardian prince. He was arrested for throwing an epic temper tantrum in New York City and leaving billions of dollars of damage and destruction in his wake.

This is an undocumented immigrant. She's a child with a doll and brightly colored gloves.

Salvadorian immigrant Stefany Marjorie, 8, holds her doll Rodrigo after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico into the United States with her family. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

Crossing the border is not a decision made lightly. People crossing the border illegally risk their lives, traveling however they can, often in overcrowded vehicles and across dangerous terrain trying to find a better life for themselves and their families.

So, what's my point here?

The point is that saying "criminal aliens" instead of "undocumented immigrants" invokes the subtle implication that immigrants are sub-human or, even worse, not human at all.

Fortunately, language can change and terms are fluid so it's important to point out the obvious distinction between aliens from outer space who wish harm to planet Earth and human people coming in from another country simply because they want a better life for themselves and their families.

Saying "undocumented immigrants" reinforces the notion that undocumented immigrants, whether they arrived in the country through legal means or not, are still human beings deserving of dignity and respect.

Using terms like "illegal alien," or worse, "criminal aliens," as freely as Mike Pence did during the vice presidential debate, only perpetuates the implication that individuals who are in the country illegally are not really people at all.

It's time to retire that hurtful and inaccurate descriptor. We are all from this planet and deserve to be treated as such.

And if anyone brings up these terms and you get confused as to which is which, feel free to pull up this handy guide for an instant refresher.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Emily Vondy's mom fail.

Sometimes, we have to just laugh at our failures.

“Here’s a little story to allow all the moms of littles out there to maybe feel a little better about yourself,” Emily Vondy told her 1.3 million TikTok followers.

In a TikTok video that has now garnered more than 500,000 views, Vondy shared perhaps one of the most hilarious “mom fail” stories of all time: forgetting her son’s actual birthdate.
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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Images from Denver Animal Shelter's Facebook page.

Imagine rummaging through secondhand finds in your local thrift store, only to find that some items include a bonus feline at no extra charge.

Montequlla the orange tabby had somehow not gotten the memo that he and his family were moving. As they dropped off furniture, including a big recliner chair, to the Denver Arc Thrift Store on New Year’s Eve, they had no idea that poor little Montequlla was tucked away inside.

Luckily, the staff began to notice the chair meowing.

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Peter Dinklage in 2013.

Disney has taken another step toward diversifying its iconic princesses by casting Rachel Zegler to play Snow White in its upcoming live-action version of the Grimms’ fairy tale. Zegler’s mother is of Colombian descent and her father has Polish roots. The 20-year-old actress recently wowed audiences in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”

Disney has also announced that Halle Bailey, a Black actress, will play Ariel in its upcoming live-action version of “The Little Mermaid.”

Disney’s big push toward inclusivity in the casting of its princesses is definitely a welcome move, but according to actor Peter Dinklage, the Mouse may be missing the forest for the trees.

Dinklage, who was born with a form of dwarfism named achondroplasia, criticized Disney on the “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast for being hypocritical for focusing on race while completely missing the ball when it comes to people with disabilities.

"There's a lot of hypocrisy going on, I've gotta say, from being somebody who's a little bit unique," Dinklage told Maron.

"Really? Like what?" Maron asked. "What do you see?"


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