Critics say the new law treats immigrants in black and white terms--as either legal or illegal--while the nuances of their status often are far more complex. They contend that the measure's authors showed blatant disregard for families such as the Molinas. "Looking at the provisions and how the law is worded, splitting families, or forcing mixed households to make hard decisions, was precisely their purpose," said Susan Alva, an attorney with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
"Maybe nobody thought about the specifics of this law," said Jose Molina, 38. "Some people say, 'Yes, I voted for 187,' because they thought that the majority of people come here to get on welfare, but that's not true. For me, the majority of us came to work. I've never asked for (welfare) assistance."
If allowed to stand, the blanket approach of Proposition 187 could signal a shift away from family unification, long considered the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy, immigration attorneys say.
Concerns over dividing families were raised after implementation of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted amnesty to people who had lived in the country since 1982 and allowed them to become legal residents.
A so-called family fairness program was implemented in the wake of that act that granted permits to undocumented family members of people who had gotten amnesty. Then in 1990, a similar program was enacted to assist people who had not made the cutoff date for the previous program.
The programs opened a window for some children and spouses of legal immigrants by allowing them to live and work in the United States while awaiting visas.
But many children and spouses do not qualify under the 1990 program because they do not meet requirements that they be continuous residents since 1988 or married to their legalized spouse since that year.
Judit Arevalo's son arrived too late to qualify. Arevalo came to Santa Ana from El Salvador in 1979 and is here legally with her husband. But she briefly returned to El Salvador--where her 5-year-old son was born-- and the boy only joined his parents in the United States two years ago.
"This law will affect him. He won't be able to continue studying," Arevalo said. "He has memories of El Salvador. He said to me, 'Mommy, if they pass this law, I don't want to go back.' "
For others, the cost of applying to legalize their children has kept them from doing so.
Edith Funes and her husband arrived in California in 1985 with farm worker visas and spent two seasons picking strawberries and tomatoes in the fields near Bakersfield.
Funes, 33, now lives in Santa Ana with four of her five children. She is here legally. So are her two U.S.-born children, ages 2 and 7. But the older boys, ages 12 and 15, are undocumented.
About a year ago her husband went back to Mexico, and Funes was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Strapped for money and unable to work, she sent a third undocumented son, age 17, back to Mexico to live with his grandparents.
Funes said she never had the money to submit the required immigration forms to apply to legalize the status of her older children, but with Proposition 187 on the ballot, she worried about them constantly. After saving for half a year, Funes took $300 last month and put in the application for her two boys. Funes said her children will remain undocumented until they receive their visas, which could take three years.
"It took me a long time to save it up all by myself," Funes said. "For me it's very hard because I don't have work here. I don't have anything. For the third son, I don't have the money now. I just don't have it."
Her 15-year-old son, a freshman at a Santa Ana high school, said Proposition 187 has left the boys stranded between the Mexico they left years ago and the country where they no longer feel welcome.
"I'm going to have to stop going to school and I don't know what's going to happen," he said. "My mother would send me back to Mexico, but I don't like it over there. I've been raised here since I was 6."
Before the election, the teen-ager took part in a walkout with hundreds of other students to protest Proposition 187. His teachers have been supportive, he said, and while most people don't know the details of his situation, he said the subject has come up in class.
"We were talking about it in school, what a family like ours was going to do," he said. "It's going to bring a lot of complications for everybody. Instead of bringing the community up, it's going to bring everybody down. People will be on the street. I think the people who passed it were just thinking about themselves."