In Short

Oregon Gov. Brown signs bill replacing ‘alien’ in state laws

By: - March 28, 2022 4:04 pm

Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Portland, sponsored a law that will remove the word “alien” from state laws referring to immigrants. (Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Oregon will get rid of all references to noncitizens as “aliens” in state documents by the summer of 2023 after Gov. Kate Brown signed a law. 

The measure will remove statutory references to “aliens” beginning on Jan. 1 and require all state agencies to replace the word “alien” with “noncitizen” in their rules by July 1, 2023. It follows similar laws passed in California and Colorado in 2021. 

A cursory review of Oregon statutes by the Capital Chronicle shows the word “alien” appears more than 100 times, mostly in reference to foreign insurance companies. But the word also is in laws about public pensions, concealed handgun licenses and hiring contractors. 

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Kayse Jama of Portland, came to the U.S. as a Somalian refugee in the 1990s. As a refugee, he was classified as an “alien” under state and national law. 

“Referring to immigrants and refugees as ‘aliens’ is an outdated, dehumanizing practice that stems from xenophobia and allows individuals to express bigotry without using overt racist language,” he said in a statement. 

Jama said he hoped other states will follow Oregon’s lead in removing the word from their laws. 

The law is one of several pieces of pro-refugee legislation passed in recent years. Brown earlier this month appointed a director for a new state office that will support new immigrants and refugees. The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Advancement was created by legislation sponsored by Jama in 2021.

In December, lawmakers also allocated $18 million to help Afghan refugees who began relocating to the U.S. last fall after U.S. troops left the country. The state expects to be home to about 1,200 Afghan refugees by September. 

President Joe Biden said the U.S. will take in about 100,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of their homeland, and it’s unknown how many will come to Oregon. 

“In Oregon, we welcome immigrants and refugees from around the world, recognizing that these communities are a vital part of the fabric of Oregon’s history, culture, and economy,” Brown said in a statement.. “I am pleased we are making progress through efforts like the Welcoming Refugees Bill, the creation of the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Advancement and now, removing a dangerous label from our lexicon through SB 1560. Words matter, and I applaud Senator Jama and all Oregonians who worked to make this important change.” 

Brown is making her way through about 130 bills passed by the Legislature earlier this spring. She has until Monday, 30 days after the legislative session ended, to sign or veto measures or allow them to become law without her signature.

So far, Brown has not vetoed any bills. She has yet to take up some of the most high-profile measures, including a proposal to phase in overtime pay for farmworkers and hundreds of millions in new state spending on infrastructure, housing and education. 

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.