Appended is the editorial I alluded to last week which claims 187 is probably
unenforceable, but will strain ethnic and racial relations in the state even
more. I think it will also leave school & service agency staff and their
students & clients in a kind of limbo, in which malicious "citizens" with
pull can threaten individual adults or kids with arrest, expulsion and maybe
deportation. It sounds like life under Communism, with block committees and
neighborhood spies. Is this the beginning of a legal caste system in Califor-
nia? Or merely the official acknowledgement of one that already exists?
The most immediate threat may be the elevated risk of another but much more
massive riot in Los Angeles, this time exploding in East LA, and involving
hundreds of thousands or millions of people, rather than just thousands or
tens of thousands.
As new Republican congressional committee chairs continue to express
bloody wishes about dismantling government and punishing unpopular groups
or controversial ideas, it's becoming more obvious just how many insane
developments may now be set in motion. An example: defacto federal support
for Operation Rescue, with homophobic congressmen encouraging it to move into
other areas of "social policy" and, for example, systematically harass local
and national lesbigay organizations around the country face-to-face. (Gay
tie-in, gay tie-in!)
So it may be worth looking at Prop. 187 to appreciate the legal and human
problems such measures create that may help to defeat them from within.
[reprinted without permission from the 11/10/94 Boston Globe, page 23]
PROP. 187'S MESSAGE
(Jack Miles is a member of the LA Times Editorial Board)
In an open letter to President Clinton, published in the Los Angeles Times
last Friday, California Gov. Pete Wilson linked his support of Proposition
187, which denies state-supported educational and medical services to
illegal immigrants, to the president's failure to pick up the tab for the
same services. "You and members of your administration," Wilson wrote,
"have bitterly criticized Proposition 187 as mean-spirited and shortsighted,
and yet you continue to turn a blind eye to the burden that providing $2.4
billion in services for illegal immigrants imposes on the legal residents of
California." [Some context: if California were independent, it would be the
EIGHTH richest nation in the world. Even its current troubles are relatively
minor compared to the bad times other states have suffered. Californians
command many of the highest salaries and wages in the country.]
On Tuesday Prop. 187 was voted into law, and Wilson was reelected. But the
link he sought to make between 187 and the Clinton administration's failure
to pick up the tab remains bogus. The proposition, now law, does not say that
illegal immigrant children must be expelled from the public schools unless the
federal government pays their tuition. By law, the children must be expelled
whatever Washington does. The same goes for other public services affected
by the new law.
Prop. 187 will face court challenges, but the governor expects the Supreme
Court to uphold its constitutionality, and he may be right.
In that case, it's only a matter of time before the expulsions from school
begin. And since the Immigration and Naturalization Service lacks both the
staff and will to also expel affected families from the country, the expelled
children will remain in California.
Prop. 187 has consequences for teachers and school officials as well. The
state recently warned superintendents that any employee who refused to
cooperate in ascertaining students' immigration status and reporting anyone
with a dubious status could be dismissed, stripped of teaching credentials
or charged with a criminal misdemeanor. The maximum fine for the misdemeanor
is only $100, but the legislature could take 187's landslide victory as a
mandate to increase the penalty.
Strangely enough, however, for a stern advocate of law and order, Gov. Wilson
has spoken as if no criminal penalties will be imposed on teachers or school
In that case, what will have been accomplished? Wilson clearly thinks that a
message has been sent to Washington. But Washington may simply imitate
California and deny federal services to illegal immigrants, Therefore, if
California does not criminalize noncompliance with 187, then the law will be
ignored and the state will be in exactly the same fiscal bind after 187 as
There is, however, one message that is getting through - to both legal and
illegal immigrants: We don't want you. Go home.
Immigration reform need not have arrived carrying this kind of message. Before
Prop. 187 changed the mood of the debate, polls showed a large majority of
Americans of Mexican descent concerned about the cost of illegal immigration.
They were prepared to see illegal immigration as a common American problem.
Prop. 187 has blown that chance. Mexican-Americans and legal immigrants from
Mexico, themselves in no danger of expulsion, now feel a new and bitterly
aggrieved solidarity with the population that Prop. 187 targets. A new
ethnic polarization, the last thing California needs, will be the one lasting
legacy of Prop. 187.
Passing a law is an odd way to send a message. Prop. 187 is virtually impos-
sible to revoke or even revise. It may be changed only by a two-thirds,
roll-call vote of the Legislature, and then only to further its original
purpose. Any modification of that purpose requires a ballot initiative,
at a qualifying cost of at least $1 million. Egged on by demagogues like
Wilson, California's voters have forgotten that when they vote for a ballot
measure they are not respondents in a poll but legislators in what has rightly
been called California's fourth branch of government [government by
plebiscite?]. Long after Prop. 187 as message has succeeded or failed to
reach its intended recipient, Prop. 187 as law will remain on the books - a
grievously mistaken law for which the state may yet pay a high price.
Given the lust for bad law and repressive policy which the GOP and
talk radio has unleashed through last week's election, it may be
instructive to look at the first of these revenge laws,
California's Proposition 187.
One point that the editorial didn't mention was that the added cost to
the California school systems of the children of these illegal
immigrants is fairly small, and that many of these children are or
will be U.S. citizens. So this law also shoots the next generation of
its citizenry it its collective foot by denying education to a
significant fraction of that generation.