On July 9, the California State Legislature passed Senate Bill 432 and it is on its way to the Assembly.
The purpose of this bill is what some have called modernizing outdated laws by removing the term “alien” from the California Labor Code and passed in the Senate without a simple “no” vote. This bill was introduced by our fellow State Senator Tony Mendoza because he and many feel that the term “alien” has become a derogatory in its modern day usage.
Now I don’t object that the term could be considered derogatory, but my only issue is instead of worrying about the semantics of language, if they are really concerned with how immigrants feel then maybe they should approve legislation that would make their everyday lives better.
Has anyone ever driven around Los Angeles County and seen our streets filled with potholes? How about some of our high schools that have extremely high dropout rates, or local taxes that are killing the middle class and forcing them to relocate? I’m just saying that I might be going out on a stretch here, but I think overall those issues are more important because it immediately affects everyone’s everyday life whether they are citizens or not.
You know not everyone finds it offensive. That is the statutory definition relating to a person’s status at the time. This isn’t like the word “negro” which specifically meant black, but could be applied to anyone at any given point in their process. Once you become a resident or a citizen, then you adopt those titles and so on and so on. By the way, I wonder how many people would object to the term “legal alien?”
The problem with changing terms that might be considered offensive is that it could lead to others feeling that some other label could be offensive even if it isn’t and wanting those words removed. What if bank robbers demanded to be called “unauthorized withdrawers” as it relates to criminal law or “property” was changed as it relates to patent law and so forth? The implications could be problematic for litigation, bill passage, or contracts. Eventually these terms which are codified would lose their meaning therefore weakening its intended purpose threatening the entirety of its structure.
The history of our court systems goes all the way back to the Judiciary Act of 1789. Before then since each state was seen as a sovereign entity, they had their own courts. The problem was how could rules and decisions given by courts in one state, have the same level of meaning and power in another? If you were sued in New York for example, could that lawsuit be irrelevant if you moved to Connecticut and never returned? This is why language is important because after federalism it becomes recognized nationally. Taking words out because they could be seen as offensive by a few does have its consequences. I wonder what Madison would think of that?
Like I mentioned earlier, I do understand how it could be seen offensive to some, but be careful about trying to change or omit the language. This could open up and bag of worms to others that might be offended by other statutory terms and could be problematic in the context of the courts, legislation, and business decisions.
My resolution is to try to expedite people in who are called “aliens” or have a problem with the term, to gain permanent status or citizenship while explaining that it is not offensive but that it is just statutory. That it is applied to all people regardless where they are from and is not specific, but temporary. Explaining this would help reinforce that fact that we are a nation of laws and everything is done through a process, not whimsically.
Lastly, we have to be aware of the consequences that could come from language omission constitutionally especially after a rush to judgement, and spread this message to everyone as well.