Meng Bill to Remove the Term "Oriental" from U.S. Law Signed by President Obama

May 20, 2016
Press Release

Legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens) that removes the derogatory and antiquated term “Oriental” from federal law was this afternoon signed into law by President Obama.

The bipartisan bill, which the President signed during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, will eliminate all references to “Oriental” – which still appear in Title 42 of the U.S. Code – and replace the word with “Asian Americans.”

“The term ‘Oriental’ has no place in federal law and at long last this insulting and outdated term will be gone for good,” said Meng. “No longer will any law of the United States refer to Asian Americans in such an offensive way, and I applaud and thank President Obama for signing my bill to get rid of this antiquated term. Many Americans may not be aware that the word ‘Oriental’ is derogatory. But it is an insulting term that needed to be removed from the books, and I am extremely pleased that my legislation to do that is now the law of the land.”

“After months of advocacy in both chambers of Congress, derogatory terms in federal law will finally be updated to reflect our country’s diversity,” said U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) who sponsored the legislation in the Senate. “I’m proud to have seen this effort through. Mahalo to President Obama for his quick action.”

“Nobody, let alone the federal government, should use a hurtful term like ‘Orientals’ when referring to Americans of Asian descent,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and an original cosponsor of Meng’s bill. “Our country is a rich tapestry of cultural backgrounds, and Americans of all backgrounds deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I was proud to support Congresswoman Meng as she led the charge on this issue, and I applaud her perseverance and success.”

Title 42 of the U.S. Code consists of federal laws that deal with public health, social welfare and civil rights. Its references to “Oriental,” which were written in the 1970s, are the last two places of U.S. law where the term is used to refer to a person. The word appears in the text of the Department of Energy Organization Act and the Local Public Works Capital Development and Investment Act of 1976. Meng discovered that the term was still part of Title 42 while doing routine legislative research late last year.

Meng’s legislation was first passed by the House on December 2nd as an amendment to the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act. But because that energy measure stalled in Congress and President Obama threatened to veto it – due to unrelated provisions in the legislation – the House unanimously passed a freestanding version of Meng’s measure on February 29th. Meng’s bill was then unanimously passed by the Senate on May 9th. It garnered 76 cosponsors including all 51 members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC).

The President signing Meng’s bill into law is the Congresswoman’s second success at getting rid of the term “Oriental.” When Meng was a member of the New York State Legislature in 2009, she passed legislation into law that eliminated the use of “Oriental” in all official New York State documents.

The bill number of Meng’s legislation is H.R.4238. Click here to view her remarks on the House Floor when it passed the House in February.