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Decision '94 / SPECIAL GUIDE TO CALIFORNIA'S ELECTIONS : Prop. 187 : Is It 'Save Our State' or 'Sink Our State'?

October 30, 1994


Sponsors have labeled Proposition 187 the "save our state" initiative. Opponents counter that it is more likely to sink our state.

Both sides do, however, agree on one thing: The sweeping ballot measure elicits passions of all types on a scale unheard of since the days of Howard Jarvis and Proposition 13.

As with the seminal--and controversial--tax-cutting measure of the late 1970s, Proposition 187 could have a burgeoning series of economic and emotional impacts that will become fully clear only as time passes.

If enacted and upheld by the courts, Proposition 187 would bar illegal immigrant youngsters from attending public schools, colleges or universities and would eliminate any child welfare or foster care benefits for undocumented youngsters. Illegal immigrants of all ages would be barred from receiving any of the limited publicly funded non-emergency health care programs they now qualify for--including immunizations against deadly disease and prenatal care.

In addition, Proposition 187 requires state and local police agencies to report to federal authorities anyone they arrest who is suspected of being an illegal immigrant. And it provides stiff new state sanctions for the manufacture or use of false immigration documents, already illegal under federal law.

To accomplish these goals, public health, social service, law enforcement and educational administrators would be required to verify the citizenship status of their clients, arrestees and pupils. Parents of all children in public schools also would have to provide proof of their legal status.

The administrators would be required to turn in the names of those suspected of illegal status to the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service and the state attorney general's office.

With an estimated 1.6 million illegal immigrants in California and a weak economy, the pre-election debate has turned less on whether illegal immigration is a problem than on whether Proposition 187 is a good solution.

The initiative does not directly address several key issues involving illegal immigration--including how to strengthen border enforcement or how to prevent businesses from employing illegal immigrants.

If it passes, various provisions of the measure are likely to be challenged in court, particularly the ban on illegal immigrants attending public schools.

The measure is a statutory amendment. If approved, it may be amended by the Legislature but only to further the measure's goals. Such changes would require a two-thirds vote in each house of the Legislature or a majority vote by state voters.


Proponents say Proposition 187 would send a clear message to federal officials that Californians are tired of illegal immigration. It would also make a statement that those who break the law should not be rewarded in any way for their actions. By cutting off services to those who are in California illegally, backers say, the state could reduce costs for social services, health care and education by more than $3 billion a year if all portions of the measure are upheld by the courts. The savings could be used to increase the quality of education and provide additional health care and social services for legal residents. Proponents say those who are denied these basic services might return to their native lands or be discouraged from entering California in the first place. The ban on public school enrollment could lead the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit a 1982 decision and, backers say, eventually reverse its ruling that declared it unconstitutional to deny a free public education to undocumented school-age children.


Opponents say Proposition 187 is mean-spirited and poorly drafted and will do nothing to stop the flow of illegal immigrants across the state's borders. The measure, they say, flies in the face of the U.S. Constitution and provides an open invitation for a flurry of costly and time-consuming lawsuits. It turns educators and doctors into quasi-immigration agents and places at risk about $15 billion in federal funding for state and local education, health and welfare programs because of conflicts with federal confidentiality requirements. The crime rate could increase, opponents say, if hundreds of thousands of kindergarten through 12th-grade students are ejected from schools. Besides, children should not be penalized for the actions of their parents, they say. Disease could spread more quickly because of the inability of illegal immigrants to receive any non-emergency health care. Moreover, the requirement to turn in suspected illegal immigrants could foster a police state mentality, in which citizens and other legal residents would be harassed simply because of the color of their skin, their accents or their last names, opponents say.


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