California will strike the word “alien” from its state laws, getting rid of what Gov. Gavin Newsom called “an offensive term for a human being” that has “fueled a divisive and hurtful narrative.”
Newsom on Friday signed a law that removes the word from various sections of the California state code. California passed laws in 2015 and 2016 that removed the word from the state’s labor and education code.
But the law Newsom signed on Friday finishes the job by removing the word from all state laws. The word will be replaced with terms like “noncitizen” or “immigrant.”
“By changing this term, we are ensuring California’s laws reflect our state’s values,” Newsom said.
The federal government has used the term “alien” to describe people in the U.S. who are not citizens since at least 1798 with the passage of the “Aliens and Sedition Acts.” But Assemblywoman Luz Rivas, a Democrat from Arleta, said the word “has become weaponized and has been used in place of explicitly racial slurs to dehumanize immigrants.”
“The words we say and the language we adopt in our laws matter — this racist term ‘alien’ must be removed from California statute immediately,” Rivas said.
Governments, libraries and news agencies have been updating immigration language in recent years. The Associated Press updated its widely used stylebook in 2013 to advise against using the phrase “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant.” Harvard Library announced in March it was removing the phrase “illegal alien” from its cataloging language.
And in April, U.S. President Joe Biden ordered federal immigration agencies to stop referring to migrants as “aliens.”
The change is California’s latest effort to modernize the language of its laws. Newsom signed laws earlier this year to insert gender-neutral language in laws about the California Conservation Corps and statewide elected officers.
California’s laws had referred to the state Attorney General and lieutenant governor as “he” and “him,” even though Vice President Kamala Harris had been the state’s first female attorney general and Eleni Kounalakis is the state’s first woman to be elected lieutenant governor.
California is one of a few states that provide government-funded health insurance to low-income children and some adults living in the country illegally.
Newsom also signed laws on Friday that clarify crimes targeting people based on their immigration status are hate crimes and that private detention facilities in California used to detain immigrants must follow local and state public health orders.
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