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December 1997 Volume 4 Number 12

California: Proposition 187 Unconstitutional


In Los Angeles on November 14, 1997, US District Court Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer in Los Angeles ruled that Proposition 187 violates both the US Constitution and the 1996 welfare law, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Under the ruling, the PRWORA requires states to follow the federal guidelines established in PRWORA when they seek to regulate the access of unauthorized foreigners to welfare benefits.

The ruling declared that "California is powerless to enact its own legislative scheme to regulate immigration. It is likewise powerless to enact its own legislative scheme to regulate alien access to public benefits. It can do what [PRWORA] permits, and nothing more." Pfaelzer is expected to convert the temporary injunction preventing enforcement of Proposition 187 into a permanent injunction by the end of 1997.

In its effects on illegal immigrants, the major difference between Proposition 187 and the PRWORA is that Proposition 187 would explicitly deny tuition-free K-12 education to children in the US without authorization, while the PRWORA does not. Proposition 187 would also require state and local health care workers, educators and police to inform the INS of suspected illegal immigrants; PRWORA does not.

In 1994, California voters approved Proposition 187 by a 59 to 41 percent vote. Judge Pfaelzer issued a partial ruling in 1995, declaring the part of Proposition 187 that would prevent illegal alien children from attending K-12 schools unconstitutional, and preventing the state from implementing most other sections of Proposition 187 as well. At the time, Governor Wilson criticized Judge Pfaelzer, saying that "Congress needs to examine the abuse of discretion by a federal judge [who] simply fails to act."

Opponents of Proposition 187 hailed the November decision and held that it will be hard to overturn. California plans to appeal the Pfaelzer ruling to the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and after that judgment, the case is likely to be appealed to the US Supreme Court.

In the San Francisco Superior Court, two legal challenges to Proposition 187 are pending; one concerns the provision that would bar illegal immigrants from state colleges and universities.

The California Supreme Court in November permitted Governor Wilson to make unauthorized foreigners ineligible for state-funded prenatal care benefits, which cost $84 million in 1997. Wilson interpreted the ruling as a green light to bar unauthorized foreigners from 200 more state programs in 1998.

The state executive branch also proposed rules that would require the 50,000 tenants in state-supported housing, including farm worker housing, to prove that they are legally in the US or face eviction. According to housing advocates, such rules could result in the eviction from public housing of an entire family even if only one member of the household was unauthorized.

A Los Angeles Times public opinion survey with a sample of 1,286 adults was conducted in September 1997 in Ventura county, about an hour north of Los Angeles. It concluded that "anti-immigrant feeling has not abated even though [California is] out of the recession." About 38 percent of those polled said that immigrants took more from the economy than they contributed, compared with 24 percent who thought immigrants contributed more than they took. Slightly more respondents thought that illegal immigrant children should be barred from K-12 schools than thought they should be allowed to attend --48 to 46 percent.

About 1,300 families with an undocumented parent receive AFDC assistance in Ventura county, making them about 15 percent of all recipients. Many older residents thought that immigrants increased crime: 56 percent of those over age 65 answered that immigrants were responsible for a significant amount of crime. About 25 percent of those polled said they personally know someone who had moved to another neighborhood because immigrant families were moving in.

Affirmative Action. In November 1997, the Supreme Court of the United States permitted Proposition 209, which won 54 percent of the vote a year earlier to go into effect in November 1997. It abolishes affirmative action programs in California and some 6,000 state agencies have begun to review their affirmative action programs. Proposition 209 says that "The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting."

Koreans. Business owned by Korean-Americans in the Los Angeles area are reportedly changing from liquor stores, neighborhood grocery businesses to services such as dry cleaning to franchise businesses that offer more stability and safety, just as many Jewish merchants abandoned their liquor stores after the 1965 Watts riots. Some 2,500 Korean-owned businesses were damaged or destroyed in the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

To operate most franchise businesses, Koreans need English. According to one observer, "A lot of Koreans have the money, but they don't speak English well enough to communicate with franchisers."

There are about 2,500 franchisers and 600,000 franchise units around the world, most in the United States; one in 12 US businesses is a franchise. About eight million US workers are employed by franchises; franchises are the country's largest employers of teens.

Economy. California added another 24,500 jobs in October, about 1,000 per work day, bringing to 1.2 million the number of jobs added in the state since the low point in the 1993 recession, and adding 343,000 jobs over the past 12 months, about 28,600 per month. The unemployment rate in California is 6.3 percent, compared to 4.7 percent nationwide.

There are believed to be 2,000 immigration consultants in California and many are accused by immigration advocates of misleading clients desperate to stay in the US.

Since June, 1997, some 22 employees of the state's motor vehicle division have been fired for issuing driver's licenses illegally. bogus licenses can fetch up to $2,600 from illegal immigrants. Since 1994, persons applying for drivers licenses must furnish proof of legal residency.


Patrick McDonnell, "Prop. 187 Found Unconstitutional," Los Angeles Times, November 15, 1997. Dave Lesher, "Deadlock on Prop. 187 has Backers, Governor Fuming," Los Angeles Times, November 8, 1997. Daryl Kelley, "Illegal Immigrants Remain a Concern Despite Economy," Los Angeles Times, November 2, 1997.
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