Gov. Gavin Newsom signs legislation removing term ‘alien’ from state codes

Photo of Gavin Newsom
Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons
The bill AB 1096, which strikes the term 'alien' as a reference to noncitizens from state codes, was approved Friday alongside AB 263 and AB 1140, which increase regulations on private detention facilities and expand state protections for children, as well as a series of other bills. Photo by Gage Skidmore underCC BY-SA 2.0

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a suite of bills Friday, supporting the state’s immigrant communities.

The legislation approved by Newsom is meant to improve California’s “humane immigration policies” by way of expanded protections for immigrants coming into the state, according to a press release from the governor’s office. One of said bills involves striking the term “alien” from state code.

“As the nation’s most diverse state, we are stronger and more vibrant because of our immigrant communities,” Newsom said in the press release. “This important legislation removes the word ‘alien,’ which is not only an offensive term for a human being, but for far too long has fueled a divisive and hurtful narrative.”

Prior to the introduction of AB 1096, the term “alien” had been used to describe noncitizens and was later deemed “outdated,” according to the press release.

Authored by state Assemblymember Luz Rivas, the bill proposes replacing “alien” with terminology more reflective of the times, according to the press release.

While the federal government had used the term “alien” since 1798, the press release notes that the term’s use as a “political dog whistle” began in the 1990s.

“The law can be seen as part of a trend toward acknowledging the power of legal language to stigmatize people,” said Jonathan Simon, UC Berkeley professor of criminal justice law, in an email. “Alien may have once meant simply the formality of lacking citizenship but it has a common meaning of different in nature, lacking in common understandings, and to a degree, unwelcome.”

The press release notes that the term was officially replaced by “noncitizen” in 2015, but was still widely used in California law.

Along with bill AB 1096, Newsom also approved bills AB 263, AB 600, AB 1140, SB 334 and SB 714.

“California leads the nation with pro-immigrant policies that have sparked change nationwide,” the press release reads.

The bills reflect Newsom’s intentions to expand protections for immigrants, with AB 263 requiring private detention facilities to comply with public health orders and safety regulations, according to the press release.  AB 1140 ensures that all children, including unaccompanied and undocumented minors, receive protections under state law. SB 714 amends the California election code to allow DREAMers to be appointed to county central committees.

Despite supporting AB 1096’s implementation, Simon criticized its lack of attention toward the legal disabilities faced by noncitizens in California.

“It does nothing to change the legal disabilities that still confront people who are non-citizens, and especially those present without current legal visas but it can communicate a more welcoming and dignified posture of California,” Simon said in an email.

Contact Kavya Gupta at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @kavyaguptta.