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The Impact Of Prop 187, 20 Years Later

The Impact Of Prop 187, 20 Years Later
The Impact Of Prop 187, 20 Years Later
The Impact Of Prop 187, 20 Years Later Isidro Ortiz, professor of Chicana and Chicano studies, San Diego State University Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, (D-San Diego)

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition as the nation waits for President Obama to announce executive orders on immigration reform many in California are taking stock of how the politics of immigration have played out in our state. One pivotal event happened 20 years ago; the passage of Proposition 187. The ballot initiative was aimed at prohibiting people living in California illegally from using health care, public education, or getting other social services. Joining me to discuss the legacy of Prop 187's impact on the San Diego border region California politics and the national debate over immigration reform are my guests Lorena Gonzalez who represents the 80th assembly district located here in San Diego. Lorena, welcome back to the show. ASSEMBLYWOMAN LORENA GONZALEZ: Thank you for having me. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Isidro Ortiz is a San Diego State University professor of Chicana and Chicano studies, Isidro welcome to the program. ISIDRO ORTIZ: Thank you. Glad to be here. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you first, Isidro if you can give us a brief little history lesson, why was there a Prop 187. Remind us what was going on at that time? ISIDRO ORTIZ: Beginning in the 19 seventies we began to see what has been called the third wave Mexican immigration, and that in turn triggered what political scientist Wayne Cornelius coined the new nativism across the United States, but especially in California. Out of those two movements we began to see a strong reaction to immigration and concern with it at all levels. In 1986 that concern finally manifested itself in the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which was promoted as an attempt to "solve the immigration problem." MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That was national? ISIDRO ORTIZ: National. And of course what that did was prohibited the hiring of undocumented workers and provided for new resources for border enforcement and also provided legal are amnesties it was called. It was signed by President Regan and had been constructed by Republican and Democrat. So in retrospect it was the major bipartisan legislation of the twentieth century in many ways  probably the last bipartisan legislation we will ever see. And at the time, it was hyped as a solution, but by 1994, at least in California, it was clear that it had been ineffective. So there was a growing concern with the border. At the same time, you had the national politics going on by 1994 basically there was agreement that IRCA as it was called, had not been effective. And both parties were trying to capitalize on the immigration issue. The Republicans were trying to use it as a wedge issue to divide the Democrats. The Democrats in turn responded by trying to find a way of preventing the Republicans of capitalizing on the issue. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So now, Isidro, you were here in  ISIDRO ORTIZ: Yes, I was here in 1994. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Prop 187 was a very polarizing issue, wasn't it? Can you give us an idea of what it was like at that time? ISIDRO ORTIZ: It  well looking back we can say that San Diego was ground 0 at the battle of immigration during that period. There was intense polarization, extensive debates, intense protests eventually manifested themselves on both sides, and of course San Diego County had a long history of the battle over immigration reaching back into the seventies and the eighties for example when we had the Ku Klux Klan patrolling the border. So historically it had been an intense hot issue and 187 only took it to a higher MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Former San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, Governor Pete Wilson was a strong proponent of 187. ISIDRO ORTIZ: That's right. He was up for reelection and decided to champion the Proposition and wrote it to reelection and had presidential aspirations and did in fact become a candidate for the nomination, and for many Latinos during that period, what he did essentially ended up making him a demon in their eyes. When he had become Mayor, he had been the first Mayor in many respects to actually open up City Hall to Latinos in San Diego. And now here he was in 94 taking on and championing a measure that many saw as very strongly anti-Latino. Of course, we have to recall that 187 was not the only initiative of that era, we also had Proposition 227, the AntiBilingual Measure. Proposition 207, the AntiAffirmative Act. So those Propositions became to be seen as the antiLatino objective of the Republican Party spearheaded by Pete Wilson. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One last question about this before I go to Lorena, Prop 187 was approved by voters, but immediately challenged in the courts, what was the outcome of that challenge? ISIDRO ORTIZ: Most of the measure was ruled unconstitutional and so for those that had been opposing the measure it was a triumph, and only recently did we have the final elements of the language of 187 finally removed through legislative action in Sacramento. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So in essence Prop 187 approved by voters was never really implemented in anyway because it was challenged legally and most of it found to be unconstitutional, but what influence Lorena did Prop 187 have on you growing up? ASSEMBLYWOMAN LORENA GONZALEZ: Well, you know I can talk about my personal experience, but it is amazing to serve in the legislature where so many Latinos who are serving there really got their political awakening from Prop 187. What people need to realize it was not just about illegal immigrants, it said that a school teacher who had a child in their class who suspected their parents were here illegally would have to turn them in. Suspected they are here illegally, we know what that means  if they are brown, you know, speak Spanish and many of us come from blended families. I was lucky enough to be born in the United States, but I always knew I had a father who was not, during this time my stepmother was not here legally. Um, we were in the process of being normalized and I knew this was not just an attack on illegal immigration as kind of a subset. It was an attack on the Latino experience, the American dream. We were told that if we came to this country, if we work hard and we follow all of the rules, we do our best that we can have a piece of the American dream and what it said, even if you were born here and Latino and if your parents were not, maybe you couldn't experience the American dream. It hit our entire community. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Give us your own personal experience with it now, if you would. ASSEMBLYWOMAN LORENA GONZALEZ: Well, my own personal experience. I was actually in graduate school and I remember I had grown up here in San Diego County, in North County which is very conservative. And I had gone away to Stanford and it was amazing to me because I had spent these four years of kind of having a new education on California. Of course, it was a very progressive area in the Bay Area, I thought wow, and people’s attitudes towards Latinos are so different here. And then all of a sudden comes this  what I saw as really just a political opportunity for then Governor Pete Wilson, because he was behind in the polls when he started propagating 187 and it did push him forward, but on the backs of all Latinos in California. And I thought, can there really be this many people in the state who really look at us as outsiders? And at the time I remember talking to my mother and it was truly devastating for those of us who wanted to experience what we thought was rightfully ours and the American dream. My mom made this very clear thing she said, “You can sit here and complain or you can really address your career path and decide you are going to do something about that." So that was great pleasure that I had this year, 20 years later being a coauthor on legislation that stripped that language from the books in California because it really does show the 180degree turn that we have done in the state. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Isidro, give us the wider picture? Lorena tells us about personally set on a career path, but for Latinos across the state it served as a political wake up call, didn't it? ISIDRO ORTIZ: Yes, but especially for the most recent generation, the socalled "Generation X." Some of the students in my classes here in San Diego, for example now Senator Ricardo Lara was one of my students back then. So he talks openly about how he was politicized because Prop 187 made  as we used to put it back in the sixties the personal political. There was a personal connection that the person was political. So for that generation it was no longer an argument of undocumented, it was a matter about families, and it was their families being attacked directly through 187. So they could see the connection and many of them became highly politicized and participated in the marches off campus and on campus and many of them went on to assume leadership roles like Senator Lara and Carmen Chavez who is now director of Casa Cornelia was another of those people. Again, people who are now in leadership positions looking back may not have assumed had it not been for Prop 187. So within Latinos it was a very important event, not only statewide. Of course, statewide what it did was political scientists have pointed it essentially made California an easy win for Republicans. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It is an easy win for Democrats. ISIDRO ORTIZ: Excuse me, yes. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It is a solid blue state now and that was not always the case Lorena. ASSEMBLYWOMAN LORENA GONZALEZ: You know I thought about it a lot this past election and um, we saw not only Governor Brown who I think has done more for really changing the way we see immigrants in the state signing legislation in the past that other Democrats wouldn't even touch. Um, quite frankly he has taken it aggressively, we have driver's licenses about to be implemented, and we have the Trust Act. We have done  we have Dreamer Legislation again and again. Um, he has been out there on the immigration issue, and we even have the Republican soften up and say that there needs to be a path to citizenship and he agrees with the Dreamers. We really have seen the politics change in the state. Along with Senator Lara of course, we just saw sworn in the Senate Pro Tem Kevin De Leon who is also from San Diego got his political start on Prop 187, so when you look at the political caucus up there who now has a lot of leadership positions, you see just  I think there is about a dozen of us who when we went through this just a couple of months ago said that our political lenience came from that one event. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And yet many Republicans have not given up their rather firm stance against illegal immigration. Here is a clip from former U.S. Attorney in San Diego Pete Nunez. Video clip: Things have gotten. Illegal immigration is worse. In 1994 we had thought maybe two or three million, we now have 11 to twelve million people in the country illegally. So we have gone entirely in the wrong direction. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So that's a word from a Republican, a Republican who apparently supported Prop 187 and apparently still does at least in theory. In a recent report here on KPBS on the twentieth anniversary of 187, a Latino man interviewed said he's a Republican, but he doesn't tell that to many people. Do you think it is healthy for most Latinos to be so closely associated with one political party? Let me ask you Isidro? ISIDRO ORTIZ: Well, from the experience of growing up in a one party state Texas, when Texas was Democratic. In the 19 sixties many of us were complaining that the Democratic Party took us for granted because there was not really any alternative. So I think part of the issue here is what interpretation do we make of the trends that have been occurring? I would say that it would be an error to say that the turn out for Democrats  supportive Democrats that it means that Latinos are content with the Democratic Party. That would  I think it is incorrect. In the recent midterm elections we saw prior to the midterm, the resurgence, the talk about the need for more of a Latino political party. Part of this discontent has to do with the number of deportations that have occurred under the Obama administration. So, I never have thought it was healthy for Latinos to be wedded to one particular party, but in reality has been California has become a one party state like it was back in Texas in the period. So, the possibilities seem to be, for many Latinos, very closed in terms of what may be available as an alternative. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Even as a Democrat Lorena, I see you agreeing with Isidro. ASSEMBLYWOMAN LORENA GONZALEZ: You know, it is interesting because being a Democrat in California I feel like it makes complete sense that Latinos would be Democrat here. Um, I think we have had responsive leaders  I hope to be a responsive leader, I think our governor has been responsive, and I think we have really pushed the issue and normalized the way that immigrants live in this state, but I think on the national level, I think that Latinos are rightfully angry. We have been given a lot of promises and as a result have come out in droves during presidential elections and supported the Democrat. You know, I am hopeful that in the next month we will see some really bold action by this President. I am a little bit beyond hopeful, I am expectant quite frankly because I think if you don't have that type of reaction that you are going to have um Latinos leaving the Democrat party in drove, and I don't think people took it as seriously as they should have prior to the midterm elections. We see that across this country we were promised comprehensive immigration reform and I understand it is the fault of the Republicans in Congress, 100 percent. This President knows he has the ability to change things through executive action, he is finally going to do it, and when he does, I think we will finally understand why most Latinos are Democrats. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know that we did invite former U.S. Attorney in San Diego Pete Nunez to join this conversation today. Unfortunately, he was unable to do it and all we can do is a play a clip of him speaking. Now, two things I want to pick up on. You said A, Latinos voters come out in droves like in 2008 and 2012, but not always when it comes to midterm elections or local elections as we have seen in areas here in San Diego, um, what does it take to motivate someone to go to the polls even after this legacy of Prop 187 Isidro? ISIDRO ORTIZ: I think what has helped is having candidates like Assemblywoman Gonzalez on the tickets. Now, we are in the situation that is very different than it was 40 or 50 years ago. We now actually have in some races Latinos running against each other. So, the research shows that the presence of Latinos on tickets makes a difference in terms of turn out. What doesn't seem to make a difference is shaming voters and bullying them and this whole thing about show up or shut up, guilt tripping them about their failure. We have to understand that these voters have constraints on them. They work, they send their kids to school. They have and lead busy lives. So I think we are still in search of a formula to actually find ways to motivate voters to turn out to vote. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And finally the Lorena you talked about expecting President Obama to come out with some um, some immigration reform by executive order, what do you hope to see him do? ASSEMBLYWOMAN LORENA GONZALEZ: Well, I hope  quite frankly I hope that deportations of anyone who has not committed a serious crime stops. We are tearing apart families every single day in this country. I think that's um, we realize that, business realizes they need immigrants to continue. They know if you talk to agriculture, they know. If you talk to the tourism industry they know and they have been supportive of it. If you talk to schools they have seen kid’s parents get deported and what they have to struggle through. We know here in San Diego quite frankly that there are kids crossing the border every single day from Mexico because they are U.S. citizens, but their parents have been deported. We have to have a solution that values the Latino family, the immigrant family and normalizes relations as much as humanly possible. I am hopeful. I will be very honest, I have said this a lot. I believed in President Obama, I had the hope picture up for years on my wall, but my entire  I wouldn't say my entire  but a large portion of how I will view this President is if he has that courage to act because there was promises made, and I think one of the reasons don't like to come out is because after promises are made they are broken. They are being taken for granted, and we have to continue to educate our community, and the only way we can do that is to say see it mattered. It mattered that we elected somebody who said they were going to make your lives easier and they did. That doesn't have to do just with immigration, but the economy, it has to do with Social Services and it has to do with keeping our neighborhoods safe. We can't educate people if we don't have examples to show them. That's what we need to do, we need to have that example if we want to people to come out. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have to leave it there. I want to thank you both very much. I have been speaking with Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez and SDSU Professor Isidro Ortiz. Thank you so much. ISIDRO ORTIZ: Thank you. ASSEMBLYWOMAN LORENA GONZALEZ: Thank you. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Coming up a San Diego swim teacher is nominated for a national award for her work with autistic children, it is 12:22 P.M. and you are listening to KPBS Midday Edition.

As President Obama prepares to announce executive orders on immigration reform — many in California are taking stock of how the politics of immigration have played out in our state.


One pivotal event happened 20 years ago: the passage of Proposition 187. The ballot initiative was aimed at prohibiting people living in California illegally from using health care, public education, or getting other social services.

Proposition 187 was also known at the time as the "Save Our State" initiative.

A federal judge struck down the law immediately after it passed but the campaign against the measure prompted Latinos across the state to engage in politics.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez said the law encouraged her to pursue a career in politics.

“It’s amazing to serve in the legislature where so many Latinos who are serving there really got their political awakening from Prop 187,” Gonzalez said on KPBS Midday Edition.