IMMIGRATION: Bill would delete ‘alien' from California labor code

Published on July 10th, 2015

Alejandra Molina
July 9, 2015
Press Enterprise

The Assembly voted Thursday to delete the term “alien” from the California Labor Code when defining immigrants, according to state Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, the bill’s author.

The vote on SB 432 was praised by Inland activists but criticized by those against illegal immigration.

Mendoza said he initiated it as a way to modernize the code and steer people away from what many consider negative terminology.

“A lot of people refer to it and sometimes they do it purposely … to create hostility,” Mendoza said.

Through his bill, the term “alien” would be removed from the state labor code when describing a person who is not born in the United States or who is not a fully naturalized citizen of the United States. The federal government uses alien to define any person who is not a citizen or national of the United States.

To Mendoza, this is a way for California to lead the way in eventually having other states, and even the federal government, do the same.

The bill, which the state Senate passed in April, will now be considered by Gov. Jerry Brown, but it won’t move forward without dissent.

For Murrieta resident William Satmary, deleting the “alien” term from the state labor code is a bad idea.

Satmary, who is against illegal immigration, said he openly uses the word to describe immigrants who are in the United States illegally.

The way Satmary sees it, the term fits anybody who is in the country illegally, whether that person is from Britain or south of the border.

“I apologize to our immigrant friends if it sounds offensive, but that’s what the federal law calls them,” Satmary said. “The term 'illegal alien' was not made up by some Tea Partiers as a slanderous term. It’s what federal law states.”

But to Mendoza, California should do things differently.

“We in California often seem to disagree with what the federal law is doing,” Mendoza said when talking about supporting immigration reform. “Just because they have that word alien in the vocabulary, doesn’t make it right.”

The use of the words “illegal” and “alien” when describing undocumented immigrants has long been debated in the media.

A 2013 Pew Research poll found that the use of “illegal alien” reached its low point that year, dropping to 5 percent of times the term was used in news reports. It had consistently been in double digits in the other periods studied, peaking at 21 percent in 2007.

Wildomar resident Jaime Fernandez said hearing the words “illegal alien” always bothered him growing up because he knew his parents were undocumented.

“I find it offensive. I think its dehumanizing,” Fernandez said. “When I think of the word alien, I think of extraterrestrials, something not from this world. That's exactly why we should not call any human being regardless of their legal status.”

The bill would not only would delete the term “alien,” but also remove language that Mendoza said creates a hierarchy of how people got hired under public works contracts. That language places U.S. born citizens first and undocumented immigrants, who are referred to as “aliens,” last.

That’s illegal, Mendoza said, citing current law that states that all employment protections and rights under state law, except as prohibited by federal law, are available to all individuals regardless of immigration status.

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