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Many a Slip 'Twixt Passage and Enforcement : Even if Prop. 187 survives the courts, its outcome will depend on a new cadre of Latinos in local and state office.

November 16, 1994|ADELA de la TORRE | Adela de la Torre is an economist in the Health Care Administration Department at Cal State Long Beach.

On Nov. 9, 1938, Hitler's Nazi regime officially sanctioned the destruction of Jewish shops and synagogues, a major step forward in his drive to solve the "Jewish problem" in Germany. On Nov. 9 this year, Gov. Pete Wilson announced his executive order to immediately enforce provisions of Proposition 187 affecting the health of the most vulnerable of the Latino community, pregnant women and the elderly. Wilson could have waited until the courts clarified the law, but, no longer a moderate, he has acquiesced to the right wing of the Republican Party, which demands not justice but tyranny, which values rhetoric over reason and which seeks to destroy rather than to build.

The Pyrrhic victory of Proposition 187 comes as no surprise to Latinos. Those who remember the ugly political battles over the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill and the English-only movement have learned that when elections become racial, implementation of laws become problematic. Although the state attorney general pledges to fight for 187 up to the U.S. Supreme Court, even he recognizes that the resources are not there to challenge the multitude of lawsuits now under way from school districts, professional organizations and individuals that will whittle away any tangible benefits from this law.

Health professionals, teachers and social workers plan to engage in civil disobedience if asked to enforce provisions of 187. Taxpayers will be stuck paying millions of dollars in litigation costs with no guarantees of successful enforcement but with the certain outcome of dividing a state that can no longer afford to divide. History has proved that the political shelf life of immigration reform is short, even when it is approved by the electorate, as the cost of enforcement soon supersedes any benefits.

The flip side of this white voter backlash against immigrants was the consolidation of a Latino voting bloc that is no longer ambivalent about the legislative agenda of the state's Republican Party. If the Democratic leadership can capture and mobilize this constituency, it could easily become in the next 10 years a solid swing vote for Democrats. And unlike the situation in 1986, when California had only a handful of Latino state legislators and congressional representatives, there are more Latino elected officials at every level of government. This growth is not only in traditional Latino strongholds like Xavier Becerra's 30th congressional District, which includes East Los Angeles; Lucille Roybal-Allard's newly created 33rd District, which includes Huntington Park and South Gate, and Esteban Torres's 34th District, which covers La Puente and Pico Rivera, but also in non-Latino districts such as Assemblyman Joe Baca's 62nd District in San Bernardino County and newly elected Assemblywoman Liz Figueroa's 20th District in the Alameda-Santa Clara area.

That Anglo voters are beginning to cross ethnic lines to vote for Latinos speaks to the real political revolution that 187 proponents choose to ignore:

the growth of Latino participation on school boards, city councils and boards of supervisors as well as

in the state Legislature and in Congress. This presence will further challenge Wilson's attempt to enforce a popular but discriminatory law.

There is no doubt that the white electorate still determines the political fate of many Latinos, African Americans and others disenfranchised from our political system. Yet as the state's aging Anglo electorate flexes its muscle once again, it is with an utter detachment from the silent revolution that will continue to grow, not only in the 14 cities that are more than 70% Latino in Los Angeles County, but also throughout the state, where Proposition 187 has galvanized a new generation of Latino voters. And for Anglo voters who speed past the barrios, who choose to ignore the majority of legal Latinos who vote, live and enforce laws in East Los Angeles (95% Latino), Huntington Park (92%), Bell Gardens (88%), Baldwin Park (71%) and Lynwood (70%): We will be able to prevent enforcement of this racialized law. Even though pundits may dismiss Latinos as non-voters and passive participants in the political process, their permanent demographic presence in California cannot be denied. Soon Latino voices will be heard across this state.

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