State Watch

California to replace 'alien' with 'noncitizen,' 'immigrant' in state laws

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Friday signed into law a measure that will effectively remove the term "alien" from state laws in reference to residents who are not U.S. citizens, in a response to growing arguments that the word is outdated and offensive. 

The legislation, which was authored by California Assembly member Luz Rivas (D), will replace the word with alternative terms like "noncitizen" or "immigrant" according to an announcement from Newsom's office

While state laws passed in 2015 and 2016 removed the word from the California labor and education code, the measure signed by Newsom Friday will replace the term in all state laws. 

Newsom said in a statement, "As the nation's most diverse state, we are stronger and more vibrant because of our immigrant communities." 

"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," he added. "By changing this term, we are ensuring California's laws reflect our state's values."

Rivas praised Newsom on Twitter Friday, writing that the signing "marks a huge step forward in the fight to dismantle institutional racism targeted specifically towards our immigrant communities." 

"For decades, the term 'alien' has become weaponized and has been used in place of explicitly racial slurs to dehumanize immigrants," she continued, thanking Newsom "for recognizing the importance of this bill and taking action to remove derogatory language from our laws." 

Nationwide movements have grown in recent years to remove references to immigrants as "aliens," a term which stems back to at least 1798 with the passage of the "Aliens and Sedition Acts."

In April, the Biden administration ordered employees of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop referring to migrants as "aliens." 

Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller said at the time that the move was necessary to help "enforce our nation's laws while also maintaining the dignity of every individual with whom we interact." 

"The words we use matter and will serve to further confer that dignity to those in our custody," he added. 

The California measure was one of several Newsom signed into law Friday as part of a larger effort to expand "the state's humane immigration policies by providing protections and support for immigrants." 

The other legislation signed Friday included measures codifying safety standards at detention facilities, as well as defending rights of unaccompanied and undocumented minors.