"It is a misnomer to think of an undocumented population that can be easily identified and removed," said Charles Wheeler, directing attorney of the Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center, which has filed one of eight lawsuits challenging Proposition 187. "These people, by and large, have been here for several years and established family connections."
Carlos Bolanos has been in the United States since 1983, when he fled his rural coastal homeland in El Salvador's war-ravaged Sonsonate province and made the odyssey through Central America to Tijuana, where he jumped the border en route to the home of relatives in Los Angeles.
Today, part owner (along with an in-law) of a home in the San Fernando Valley, Bolanos remains undocumented, as do his three eldest children--though his wife, Teolinda Alvarado, has temporary legal status and his 10-month-old daughter, Gabriela, was born in the United States.
"It would be very difficult for us to return now to El Salvador," Bolanos said recently.
Once a \o7 campesino, \f7 Bolanos has been making a living rebuilding alternators and other automotive parts at a San Fernando Valley shop for $5.80 an hour. He long ago sold his ancestral plot of land back home, he said, in order to help raise money for a house down payment here. He has never received public assistance, he says, and has always paid his taxes, just as he regularly sent a chunk of his paycheck back home each month to his family.
His eldest three children--Oscar Arturo, 16, Elsa, 14, and Marvin, 10--arrived in the United States in May, finally uniting a family that had been divided for more than a decade. Now, with Proposition 187 on the books and a growing hostility toward illegal immigrants, Bolanos dreads the prospect of a family forced to split anew.
"It would be a great blow if my (eldest) could not go to school," he said. "Our idea is that we would all have a life together, and my children would have better opportunities in this country. Now they say we have to go back. Go back to what?"