California Governor Signed A Law To Ban The Word 'Alien' When Referring To Non-Citizens

Photo: Jana Asenbrennerova / Shutterstock
Gov. Gavin Newsom

California has now taken initiative to remove the term “alien” from its state laws as Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law on Friday to remove the word from various sections of California’s state code.

California has passed variations of this law in 2015 and 2016 by removing the word from the state’s labor and education code. 

Now, California is removing the word 'alien' from all legal codes.

Gov. Newsom called the word “an offensive term for a human being” and that it has “fueled a divisive and hurtful narrative.”

Instead, the term will be replaced with more socially conscious choices such as “noncitizen” or “immigrant.”

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The term “alien” was first introduced into California’s legislature in 1937 regarding the employment of people who were not born or became U.S. citizens. The federal government’s use of the word dates even further back to 1798 when it was used in the Alien and Sedition Acts.

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Earlier this year, President Biden sought to also remove the term “alien” from U.S. immigration laws, opting to replace it with the word “noncitizen.”

The word “alien” has been used to dehumanize and further discriminate against immigrants seeking refuge from their home countries. 

Much like the synonymous term “illegal,” immigrants are treated as less than human because of the inappropriate words that are used to describe them.

A 2010 Social Influence study found that the term “illegal alien” evokes greater prejudice against Mexican immigrants because the term is associated with “increased perceptions of threat.”

It was also found that people who hold negative stereotypes of ethnic groups like Latinos are more likely to support restricting immigration.

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President Trump drove the narrative of discriminating against asylum seekers and immigrants. Trump consistently used the term “alien” during his time in office, as well as in one of his last speeches before leaving the White House, he used the word at least five times while visiting the U.S.-Mexico border.

In April, President Biden ordered federal immigration agencies to stop referring to migrants as “illegal aliens.”

California’s new change in regards to migrants are some of the state’s latest efforts to modernize some of its laws. 

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Gov. Newsom signed laws earlier this year for the use of gender neutral language in laws about the California Conservation Corps and statewide elected officers.

California is also one the few states who provides government-funded health insurance to low-income children as well as some adults who are living in the country without citizenship.

The strike against the term “alien” was just one of the few laws Gov. Newsom signed into effect. He also signed laws on Friday that clarified crimes targeted against 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.

Much of the vocabulary used to refer to immigrants is extremely outdated and harmful. These new laws being passed are an amazing step in the right direction when it comes to visibility and making sure immigrants are being seen as human beings.

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Brooklyn. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.