CALIFORNIA Governor Gavin Newsom signed a suite of bills on September 24 expanding the state’s humane immigration policies by providing protections and support for immigrants, including a new law to replace the outdated and derogatory term “alien” used to describe non-citizens in the state code.
“As the nation’s most diverse state, we are stronger and more vibrant because of our immigrant communities,” said Governor Newsom. “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. By changing this term, we are ensuring California’s laws reflect our state’s values.”
AB 1096, authored by Assemblymember Luz Rivas (D-Arleta) will replace the word “alien” with language more reflective of today’s legal terminology, such as “noncitizen” or “immigrant.” The term “alien” has been used to identify individuals who were not born in the United States by the federal government since 1798 and in California since 1937. In the 1990s, the word “alien” began to be used as a political dog whistle to express bigotry and hatred without using traditionally racist language. By 2015, the term was officially replaced with “noncitizen,” however “alien” is still widely used in many aspects of California law.
In addition to signing AB 1096, Newsom signed a series of bills to protect the health and safety of immigrants, including legislation to clarify safety standards at detention facilities, ensure rights and protections for unaccompanied undocumented minors, and cement protection for immigrants under hate crime legislation.
California has led with pro-immigrant policies, including expanding access to higher education, expanding access to health care and public benefits, advancing protections for immigrant workers, supporting immigrant students through partnerships with school districts, improving opportunities for economic mobility and inclusion through access to drivers licenses and pro bono immigration services.
Newsom’s California Comeback Plan makes historic investments regardless of immigration status, offering an additional $1,000 in stimulus checks to undocumented families through the expanded Golden State Stimulus; the largest renter assistance program in the country; $5.2 billion to help low-income renters cover their back-rent and their rent for several months into the future; and $2 billion to help Californians pay past-due utility bills. The California Comeback Plan also enacts a first-in-the-nation expansion of Medi-Cal to undocumented Californians over 50 years old, providing access to critical health care services.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, California has made free COVID-19 testing and treatment available for all Californians, regardless of insurance or immigration status. The state also prioritized high-risk neighborhoods for COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate people most at-risk of contracting the virus, reaching many communities with large immigrant populations. To support food and agriculture workers who tested positive for or were exposed to COVID-19 and did not have a place to quarantine safely, California created Housing for the Harvest, a first-in-the-nation framework with FEMA that provided shelter and quarantine options for farmworkers to isolate. The program was expanded to also provide in-home quarantine support and cash assistance to participants. California also created a first-in-the-nation statewide public-private partnership to provide $150 million in disaster relief assistance to undocumented Californians. California’s $75 million investment reached 150,000 people across the state.
In addition to AB 1096, Governor Newsom also signed:
AB 263 by Assemblymember Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), which clarifies the requirement of private detention facilities, including those used to house and detain immigrants in California, to comply with local and state public health orders. It also requires private operators to abide by Cal/OSHA workplace safety rules and regulations.
AB 600 by Assemblymember Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), which clarifies that existing law includes immigration status under the definition of “nationality” so that crimes targeting people due to their immigration status are considered a hate crime.
AB 1140 by Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), which ensures that all children housed in state-licensed facilities, including unaccompanied undocumented minors, will be under the jurisdiction of the California Foster Care Ombudsperson’s Office and will thereby receive all of the resources and protections they are entitled to under state law.
SB 334 by Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), which requires private, for-profit detention facilities operating in California to uphold basic health and safety standards for people being detained in these facilities and maintain minimum levels of insurance coverage related to medical professional liability and liability for civil rights violations.
SB 714 by Senator Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), which amends California election code to allow aspiring citizens such as DREAMers to be appointed and elected members in a county central committee. n