Gov. Brown Axes ‘Alien’ from Labor Lexicon

From the San Francisco Chronicle and Written by Kale Williams

August 10, 2015 Updated: August 10, 2015 6:27 pm

BrownBillSigningUnless it’s a reference to interplanetary travelers, the term “alien” will no longer be part of the state Capitol lexicon, or at least the California Labor Code, as Gov. Jerry Brown effectively banned the word with the stroke of his pen Monday.

The newly enacted law, originally sponsored by state Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia (Los Angeles County), will go into effect Jan. 1, 2016, and is intended to modernize California law by removing the term as a legal definition of an undocumented immigrant worker.

“My bill modernizes the Labor Code and removes the term ‘alien’ to describe a person who is not born in or a fully naturalized citizen of the United States,” Mendoza said in a statement. “Alien is now commonly considered a derogatory term for a foreign-born person and has very negative connotations.”

The term “alien” is a holdover from a bygone era, according to a news release on the new law from the governor’s office. Inserted into various provisions in the California Labor Code in 1937, the word was defined as any person who is not born in the United States or a fully naturalized citizen of the country.

But, over the years and with the rise of political rancor around the issue of immigration, the term took on some ugly connotations and its presence in the law books was long overdue for removal, Mendoza said.

“The word ‘alien,’ and any law prescribing an order for the issuance of employment to ‘aliens,’ have no place in the laws of our state and more importantly, should never be the basis for any employment hiring. (The law) deletes this outdated, discriminatory and unnecessary reference in state law,” he said.

TPaulson-AFLConvention2009Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council, which represents more than 100 unions and more than 100,000 workers across all kinds of professions, both public and private, said the law was a long time coming.

“I’m very pleased,” he said. “The word ‘alien’ has incredibly racist and un-American connotations.”

More than 16 percent of the U.S. workforce is composed of foreign-born workers, according to the most recent numbers from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, and foreign-born workers are more likely to be employed in the service industry than their native-born counterparts.

“There are two words we are opposed to: illegal and alien. There is no such thing as an illegal person, and there is no such thing as an illegal alien. All workers in this country, whether documented or undocumented, pay their taxes and do their fair share,” Paulson said.

“We are a nation of immigrants, and anything that connotes a negative implication of being an immigrant is antithetical to the idea of the American dream.”

Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach (Orange County), who cast the sole vote against the law, said that the term “alien” had become pejorative because the people it was being applied to had broken the law and that the bill itself was “just a way for legislators to get their names in the paper.”

“The negative connotations come from the fact that people are breaking the law. Changing the word won’t change the fact that folks are here illegally,” he said. “Bills like this are a waste of time, especially when we have much more serious issues to deal with.”

For his part, Mendoza dismissed that rationale.

“Just because we are dealing with this issue doesn’t mean we are turning a blind eye to other issues that matter,” he said. “For Harper to dismiss this bill so readily I think does a disservice to his constituents.”

Kale Williams is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @sfkale


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