On August 10, 2015, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed into law Senate Bill No. 432 (S.B. 432), which modernizes the California Labor Code by removing the term “alien” to describe “any person who is not a born or fully nationalized citizen of the United States.” The bill also repeals a section of the Labor Code that sets forth a prescribed order for the issuance of employment under public works contracts in the limited instance of extraordinary unemployment. That section currently gives preference first to California residents, then to other states’ residents living in California, and lastly to “aliens.”
In 1937, the state legislature began using the term “alien” in various provisions regarding the employment of persons who were not a born or fully-naturalized citizen of the United States. Most of these Labor Code statutes were repealed in 1970, but the definition for “alien” was not.
S.B. 432 was introduced in February 2015 by Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), chair of the Senate Labor and Industrial Labor Relations Committee, who argued that striking the term was an important step toward modernizing California law in light of the now common view that “alien” is a derogatory term with highly negative connotations. “The word ‘alien’, and any law prescribing an order for the issuance of employment to ‘aliens’, have no place in the laws of [California] and more importantly, should never be the basis for any employment hiring. S.B. 432 deletes this outdated, discriminatory and unnecessary reference in state law,” he said.
Additionally, Mendoza pointed to Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicating there were 25.3 million foreign-born persons in the U.S. labor force in 2013, comprising more than 16 percent of total U.S. workers. He also cited the U.S. Department of Treasury, which reports that immigrants own 10.8 percent of all firms with employees, thus providing job opportunities for thousands of Americans.
Proponents of the bill argue that the United States is a country comprised of immigrants who not only form an integral part of the nation’s culture and society, but are also critical contributors to its economic success. Immigrants work and pay taxes, and also create new products, businesses, and technologies that generate employment for all Americans. “California is among the top destination states for immigrants in the United States. Given the abundant evidence of their many contributions, it is imperative that any derogative references to foreign-born individuals be repealed from state law,” Sen. Mendoza explained.
The new law takes effect on January 1, 2016. Consistent with the new law and the arguments in support of its passage, companies with employees in California are advised to review their policies and employee handbooks and delete any references to the term “alien” to describe persons who are not born or fully-naturalized citizens of the United States.