A bill that would remove the word “alien” from all state codes in favor of current terminology for undocumented immigrants such as “noncitizen,” continued to gather support this week before facing several Senate Committee votes.
Assembly Bill 1096, authored by Assemblywoman Luz Rivas (D-Arleta), would specifically revise state law provisions currently using the word “alien” to refer instead to those persons using other terms that do not contain the word “alien,” including a person who is not a citizen or national of the United States. AB 1096 would follow the lead of the previous SB 432 law that removed the word “alien” from the California Labor Code beginning in January 2016.
Assemblywoman Rivas wrote AB 1096 largely due to changing views of the use of the word, saying that “alien” is dehumanizing and that it can diminish their rights compared to other, more modern words such as “noncitizen” and “undocumented immigrant.” While Rivas has noted that the term “alien” has been used by the federal government since 1798 and California since 1937, she said that in recent years that the word has caused unjust harm in recent decades.
“Words have power. Words shape our laws. We teach our children at a young age that words can be used to shape the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves,” said Assemblywoman Luz Rivas last week following the bill’s passage in the Assembly. “The term, ‘alien’ is an archaic and dehumanizing term used for decades to isolate the undocumented community and diminish their rights. As the State with the largest undocumented population in our nation, we all know someone, have a friend, a colleague, or a neighbor, who is a noncitizen. However, that does not make them any less human or American. It’s time we that brought our laws into the 21st century and remove outdated terminology that no longer reflects the diverse population that makes up this great state.
“From the racially motivated shooting in El Paso to the recent rise in hate crimes against our API communities, we’ve seen a deliberate escalation of xenophobia in our society lead to violent attacks. The term ‘alien’ has become weaponized and is now used in place of explicitly racial slurs to dehumanize our immigrant communities. The words we say and the language we adopt in our laws matter—this racist term ‘alien’ must be removed from California statute immediately. No person should ever be referred to as an ‘alien’ because they were born outside of the United States.”
Bipartisan support for AB 1096
Backers of the bill, which includes both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, as well as many immigration groups and famed activist Delores Huerta, have noted similar reasons for supporting AB 1096.
“The term ‘Alien’ is dehumanizing and belongs nowhere in our country,” added Assemblyman Robert Rivas (D-Hollister). “This anachronism diminishes the positive contributions that immigrants make to our communities every day. The immigrant experience is the American experience, and the language in our laws must reflect our country’s inclusive values. Undocumented immigrants deserve the human decency and dignity that everyone is entitled to.”
AB 1096 has received little to no opposition from lawmakers, with no Assemblymember or Senator going on record opposing bill. This is evidenced by by the Assembly passing the bill unanimously last week 71-0 and by more organizations from across the political spectrum coming out in support of the bill this week.
“Alien is a strong word,” noted Los Angeles immigration lawyer Ramon Santiago on Friday to the Globe. “In court and in other places, it carries a heavy connotation, with the word itself now carrying the weight of something close to a slur now. Calling undocumented immigrants a ‘noncitizen’ still works perfectly as a descriptor.”
“Words change meaning or take on something negative overtime, and that’s what alien has become over the years. This isn’t something to raise hell about. It’s just a word has become something else and were changing it to make it more in line where we are today. We’ve done this with many words before in laws and codes. It’s just aliens time now. Both conservatives and liberals have agreed on this. Plus, no one wants to lose out on the immigrant vote, which is pretty substantial in California”
AB 1096 is expected to be passed by the Senate later this year, with the Governor also expected to sign it into law.
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