20 Years Later, California Still Feels Effects of Anti-Immigrant Measure

Written by on November 7, 2014 in State and Local with 3 Comments

2854994164_7c77be32ea_oSaturday marks 20 years since 59 percent of Californians voted for a measure designed to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants in the state, a policy that backfired and led to a massive political shift. The measure was Proposition 187, part of 1994’s “Save Our State” initiative, and its repercussions are still being felt today.

Prop. 187 was an effort to curb state expenses by denying social services to undocumented immigrants in California. In 1994, California officials estimated that there were roughly 2 million undocumented immigrants in the state. The measure required state officials to verify immigrants’ status in the U.S., including law enforcement, health, and education officials. Protests against the measure happened across the state before its passage, and it was never enacted after a federal judge issued a temporary order halting Prop 187 three days after voters approved it. Eventually, a federal court struck it down as unconstitutional.

Then-Republican Gov. Pete Wilson strongly supported Prop. 187 and used it as the centerpiece of his re-election campaign in 1994. In his gubernatorial run, Wilson emphasized illegal immigrants crossing the U.S./Mexico border into California and the costs to the state. And it worked for him: he won re-election. However, it did long-term damage to the Republican party in the state.

Twenty years later, that damage is clear. Longtime Latino advocate and founder of Los Amigos of Orange County reflected that “In the long run it [Prop. 187] did us a lot of good…it sparked an ignition, a fire, to do what we wanted to do but were not able to do.” Latino opposition to the ballot initiative galvanized activists, who launched citizenship drives across the state that led to greater political participation. There are 3.7 million Latino registered voters in California, an increase of more than 2 million since the mid-1990s, for example. And 1.7 million Asian and Pacific Islanders (API) are registered voters in California, an increase of 845,000 since the mid-1990s. Prop. 187’s harm to the Republican Party, especially among the growing Latino population in California, wasn’t immediate, but it was long lasting and has become known as the “Prop 187 Effect.”

In alienating immigrant and minority voters through an anti-immigration campaign, these same voters increased their civic engagement to the point where California became a solidly blue state. In 1994, the GOP held 26 of California’s 52 seats in the U.S. House. Starting with the next Congress, Republicans will fill 15 of the 53. A report by Latino Decisions last year attributes this drop to changes that “reshaped California politics in a manner that has made the Republican party nearly irrelevant.” These changes, the report found, included the increase in the Latino share of the electorate and the anti-immigrant agenda (including Prop. 187) that alienated Latino voters.

The United States is in the midst of a major demographic transformation among its electorate. Between 1996 and 2012, the number of Latino registered voters increased by 7.1 million (108.4 percent) and this number will only continue to grow. Thankfully Prop. 187 never saw the light of day and its successors like SB1070 and HB56 have also failed to survive legal challenges. Today’s states are increasingly turning towards progressive pro-immigrant legislation that seeks to integrate and incorporate immigrants into the fabric of U.S. society. Prop. 187 is a piece of history; however, its lesson should not be forgotten, particularly by state legislators when they consider how to calibrate laws that affect immigrant communities.

Photo Courtesy of the Korean Resource Center 민족학교.

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  • Friendly Anonymous

    The premise of this article – that it is wrong to deny U.S. tax-funded public benefits to those who are undocumented/ illegal in the U.S. – is frankly offensive. It is plainly wrong.

    Nor does denial of these benefits does not amount “alienation” of Hispanics/ Latinos/as (pick your fave moniker).

    This is why an immigration focus among Hispanics/ Latinos/as backfires:

    (1) Among Hispanics **voters**, immigration recedes to at best a distant 4th place in the list of national priorities: “there are several issues that consistently rank higher on the list than immigration. In 2013, some 57% of Hispanic registered voters called education an “extremely important” issue facing the nation today. That’s compared with jobs and the economy (52%) and health care (43%). Just 32% said immigration.” (http://www.pewresearch.org/fac…. In other words, Hispanic voters are exactly where other voters are focused. “Immigration” for this group =/= amnesty of some form. “Immigration” here = keep out foreign workers who compete for middle class jobs.

    (2) Hispanics are *not* monolithic. Those from countries of high unlawful immigration – Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador, and Guatemala (http://www.immigrationpolicy.ohttp://www.migrationpolicy.org… – will care a lot about immigration. “Immigration” for this group = amnesty of some form.

    Of course, those who lack lawful stay in this country will report that immigration is a top priority for them. D-UUH! But those who are not lawfully present here are not authorized under law to vote. The vote privilege is reserved for citizens under the Constitution. In short, focus on those who are lawful voters.

    Most Hispanics in the U.S. are from Mexico. “Among the 50.7 million Hispanics in the United States, nearly two-thirds (65%), or 33 million, self-identify as being of Mexican origin….” (http://www.pewhispanic.org/201…. This population is mixed US citizen/ lawfully present in the U.S., and illegal/ undocumented. A single family may be fully mixed!

    (3) Dealing with illegal immigration should be **separate** than dealing with legal immigration. POTUS and the Dems have tried to commingle the two through CIR (comprehensive immigration reform a/k/a S.744, which was HORRIBLE!). The only way to force Americans to swallow the bitter pill of amnesty/ earned citizenship is to coat it with reform of lawful immigration. That didn’t work. <> Now POTUS wants to take an EO route, which I imagine/ hope will hurt the Dem presidential nominees in 2016.

    This is how it should work:

    Obama/ Napolitano are *wrong, wrong, wrong* on immigration EOs. Any immigration reform should go through Congress first to build some national consensus. Otherwise, any EO will be rightfully subject to ongoing constitutional challenge and litigation without building national consensus.

    BTW, Obama – keep deporting away. Do not slow down. Here’s the rest of the correct agenda aimed at balancing immigration to favor ***U.S. innovation/ economic growth and national security.***

    The U.S. should pursue U.S. interests in its foreign policy as much as in its immigration policy. This requires making a clear distinction between legal immigration – which we want and should encourage generously! – and the illegal/ undocumented type – which we should depress to the point of elimination. Here’s an 8-point program (points 6 and 7 really matter):

    (1) Aspiring economic migrants are not “immigrants” under U.S. law. By
    legal definition under 8 U.S. Code § 1101(a)(16), “immigrants” have
    permission to enter the U.S. lawfully. As well, the unaccompanied alien
    children at the southern border do not technically meet definitions under law for asylum or refugee status; they are *not* immigrants under law. Here’s an interesting article that also discusses Special Immigrant Juveniles Status(SIJS): http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/D….

    (2) As an act of sovereignty, the U.S. should build a robust fence/ barrier along the southern border to support the admission of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and others authorized to enter the U.S. (e.g., visa holders, approved asylees, approved refugees), and to summarily exclude those who are undocumented/ illegal. It’s more humane to keep-out the undocumented/ illegals out than to let them in and then deport/ remove them. And BTW – yes, fences/ barriers work! E.g., after Israel built its fence/ barrier along the 1949 Armistice Line (“Green Line”) to protect its civilians from suicide bombing attacks, such attacks dropped from 64 to 12! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I….

    Oh, BTW – now that Canada has suffered its 9-11, our neighbor is correctly beefing-up its southern border security.http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/……. Canada is also being serious about managing Ebola and its visa-granting consulates and its borders:http://www.balglobal.com/News/

    (3) Outside the U.S. set-up processing centers (such as in Ciudad Juarez, MX) to accept and process applications for standard refugee/ asylee status. Only those granted lawful asylee/ refugee status may enter the U.S.

    (4) If a person is missing a passport (e.g., passport destroyed to prevent deportation/ removal from U.S. or other country), that person should not be eligible to apply for *any* U.S. immigration benefit.

    (5) After a meaningful fence/ barrier is built, and after it shows a meaningful reduction in unlawful U.S. entries (e.g., 80%, which is clearly achievable given the Israel example that I cited above): the best solution for those who are already in the U.S. as undocumented/ illegals is to permit a *temporary* visa program to authorize low-skill jobs. The next-best solution is to permit lawful permanent U.S. residence (a/k/a Green Card) *without* any form of citizenship eligibility…ever. The benefit of no-citizenship-eligibility includes the ability to deport/ remove an individual for criminal infractions. There should be **no** – zero! – citizenship eligibility. Also, no DACA, no Dreamers. These undocumented/ illegals are law-breakers; that should not be rewarded.

    (6) Vigorously support innovation and the inflow of the high achieving, the talented, the investors, STEM graduates of U.S. colleges/ universities, STEM professionals…the sort of qualified, English-speaking, law abiding people who contribute to the U.S. economy and support U.S. innovation in science, technology, and industry. These are the people who are in the U.S. lawfully, who have followed the meat-grinder process to correctly gain U.S. immigration benefits. We should make it easier on this population, and eliminate Green Card backlogs for them.

    (7) Grant H-1B and L-1 work visas liberally; the market *really* does adjust and regulate the streams. (http://www.brookings.edu/~/med….
    These visa workers comprise a small proportion of the U.S. labor force, which is estimated to be approx. 155.4 million workers.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L….
    For example, the the no. of H-1B visa holders is estimated to be between 650K-800K (http://cis.org/estimating-h1b-….
    ***This means that H-1B workers comprise a *minuscule* portion, only between 0.32% and 0.51% of the U.S. labor market.***

    (8) As an aside, the visa lottery program of the U.S. Department of State should be closed. As should the unskilled worker Green Card (EB-4) program; we get enough unskilled workers from family-based immigration and the undocumented/ illegals. Enough already.

    BTW – for those who wish to accuse me of being “racist,” here’s my background: I am a U.S. citizen by birth. My family has been citizens since the 1890s; they gained U.S. passports fully lawfully. Before that, my antecedents were from Europe, mainly Spain. I have practiced immigration law in the U.S. for >20y. Oh, and, yes, I am a Spanish-is-my-first-language Hispanic. I am a passionate American. My country first.

  • Ali Alexander

    California is now the poorest state in the country, so too bad that the measure was never carried out.

  • Ferdinand Mcfarlane

    California now has the the largest, neediest group of people on public assistance, consisting mostly of foreign-born, single females and their bastard children.