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"Proposition 187: Racism Leads to Deaths and More Poverty,"

by Bill Tamayo January/February 1995 issue of Poverty & Race

On November 8, 1994, California voters approved (59% to 41%) Proposition 187, the so-called "Save Our State" initiative. Proposition 187 denies public education, public medical services (except emergency services) and social services to undocumented persons, and requires doctors, teachers, social service providers and police to report suspected undocumented persons to the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the California Attorney General. Overnight, these professionals were partially stripped of their integrity and lost their students', patients' and community members' trust in them as they became agents of the INS. The measure had been publicly opposed by health associations, educators, the Clinton Administration, boards of education, city councils, law enforcement associations, labor unions, civil rights communities and even leading conservatives -former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp and former Education Secretary and National Drug Czar William Bennett. Yet despite this vast array of opposition forces, the proposition passed. Why?

In Fall 1993, a Time magazine survey revealed that only 24% of those polled believe that most immigrants come into the U.S. legally, when in fact over three-quarters do; and that 64% believe most immigrants enter illegally, when in fact only less than one-quarter do. The Los Angeles flmes reported that 70% of whites voted for Proposition
187, while 78% of Latinos, 56% of Mrican Americans and 54% of Asians voted against it.

Proponents of 187, including its drafter, former INS Commissioner Alan Nelson, deny that racism played a part in the vote and point to what actually was a relatively close vote in the African American and Asian American communities. But without a doubt, race was the linchpin that drove this issue. In a state where minorities are 45% of the population (Latinos 25%, Asians 10%, Blacks 8%, Native Americans 2%), immigrant-bashing has increased tremendously. In addition, with the downturns in the economy, including military base closures in California that have thrown many workers into unemployment, many have found it convement to blame the problems on the increasing numbers of non-white immigrants. In comparison, in New York, immigrants have not been the targets, as yet. This may be due in part to the fact that there the largest number of undocumented are Italians, followed by the Irish.

Civil rights groups immediately filed suit challenging 187 as unconstitutional and in violation of federal laws. US District Court Judge Matthew Byrne in Los Angeles enjoined enforcement of all of Proposition 187 (Gregorio T. v. Wilson), except those provisions dealing with the manufacture, distribution and use of false documents, pending a hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction. On December 14, US District Court Judge Mariana Pfaelzer in Los Angeles issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of those provisions of Proposition 187 earlier enjoined by Judge Byrne. This action suspends implementation of the medical services, social services and K-12 education elements of the law until a request for a permanent injunction is either granted or denied -which could be months or years away. In a related action, Judge Stuart Pollack of the SF Superior Court on November 9 blocked enforcement of all of the educational provisions of 187, including those covering higher education (the community college system, Univ. of California and the California State Univ. system). A hearing on the preliminary injunction in this case is scheduled for February 8.

Newspapers have already reported the deaths of two individuals after the elections: a Latino boy and an elderly Chinese woman who did not seek medical help for their illnesses for fear of deportation. Clinics report a drop in the number of patients, largely due to the fear in the community. Civil rights and social services groups are encouraging students to attend school and people to seek services, since the law has been enjoined.

Civil rights groups are gearing up for further fights as similar measures are being drafted for introduction on other states' ballots and in Congress. It will be a tough fight, but there is a silver lining in this whole issue: thousands of doctors, teachers, social service providers, nurses and police officers have been rudely thrown into the immigration debate and used by the forces of hate and xenophobia. These professionals stood overwhehningly against Proposition 187. In addition, thousands of high school students protested 187 through walkouts and demonstrations. A substantial part of California's next generation has been politicized in the process. This growing opposition will be a strong base to continue opposing implementation of 187 and other similar measures.

Bill Tamayo , a PRRAC Board member, is Managing Attorney at the Asian Law Caucus (468 Bush St., 3rd flr., San Francisco, CA 94108; 413/391-1655).

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