We received some interesting news out of California recently, when Governor Jerry Brown signed several new immigration laws into effect. One such measure included removing the word “alien” as a term for noncitizens from the state’s labor code. This was done because of the word’s largely negative connotation for those from other countries who have not yet attained lawful status.
The power behind a word
Why does this California bill, which only affects terms used in the state’s labor code, affect the country as a whole? For natural born citizens, it can be easy to forget that the term—while used in federal immigration law and other states—is a legal one, it’s not always about “official” use when it comes to immigrants themselves.
While the government has, to this day, used “alien” to describe noncitizens of the country (especially illegal immigrants), it sometimes takes on the form of an umbrella term used to describe legal and illegal immigrants alike, and even (ignorantly) citizens who may have even been born here but have foreign born parents!
Even when used correctly, the term can be hurtful to those it refers to. Immigrants can often feel like the term is used to describe everything they are, when this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Immigrants, whether they are in the country legally or illegally, are as complex and multifaceted as anyone else. When this one word is used to describe them, often in an offensive way, it can certainly take a toll. Using this term to describe an entire group of people also has the ability to discredit all the good that foreign born residents do for the country. As the author of the bill, Senator Tony Mendoza, told the LA Times: “The United States is a country of immigrants who not only form an integral part of our culture and society, but are also critical contributors to our economic success.”
But aside from the word “alien” often offending those it refers to, it can also lead much of the country to form negative opinions of immigrants as well. By removing the word from California labor code, it is hoped that Californians and the rest of the country can learn to form more accurate, compassionate viewpoints about the people who form such an integral part of our country.
Additional immigration measures
In addition to the labor code bill, Governor Brown also signed into effect two other immigration-related measures. The first will allow high school students who are legal permanent residents to work at the polls for state elections, in the hopes that they will be able to assist with translation needs and get a firsthand look at the democratic process.
The final bill focuses on the role a child’s immigration status in civil liability cases, stating that the status should not be a factor in these suits.
While these bills won’t go into effect until January, they still give us a glimpse at how government officials can respond to increasing diversity in a positive, constructive way. In the months and years to come, we may be able to see other states follow suit.