One year after its approval by a vote of 59 to 41 percent, California's Prop. 187 remains tied up in court.
There are two distinct cases pending. Sections 7 and 8, which prohibit illegal aliens from obtaining tuition-free public education, is being challenged in a San Francisco state court by opponents who assert that the denial of free K-12 education to illegal alien children violates the California constitution's equal protection clause. Many observers expect the judge to strike down these sections.
A second case is pending in federal court in Los Angeles. All sections of Prop. 187 are being challenged there as an unlawful effort by California voters to regulate immigration, which is solely a federal responsibility. The state of California is defending Prop. 187 on the grounds that it has the right and responsibility to allocate its limited resources to provide services to those voters deem most deserving.
On October 23, the federal judge in Los Angeles indefinitely postponed a decision on whether some parts of Prop. 187 can take effect even if other sections are found to be unconstitutional. Opponents of Prop. 187, including state-paid attorneys representing the elected State Superintendent of Education, are arguing that the initiative should be declared unconstitutional because it is a state effort to interfere with federal immigration policy.
If the Prop. 187 case goes to trial, social science research may take center stage, much as it did in the 1954 US Supreme Court that ended "separate but equal" schools for blacks and whites. Among the issues to be resolved are questions such as the role of benefits and services in attracting illegal immigrants and their families to California, or encouraging them to stay, the impacts of illegal immigrants on US citizen and legal immigrant workers, and the effects of denying services to illegal immigrants on the quantity and quality of services available to other state residents.
For example, if illegal immigrant children were denied K-12 public education services, California might argue that, given other propositions approved by voters, implementing Prop. 187 might increase the funds available for K-12 education by five percent, or $1 billion over three to five years.
In Hispanic commentary on the Million Man March, it was noted that the largest demonstration staged in the US by Hispanics involved 70,000 opponents of Prop. 187 in Los Angeles in October 1994.
In Sacramento, a law pushed by Democrats to head off Prop. 187 has led to protests from some immigrants. In 1993, California enacted a law that required applicants for drivers' licenses to prove that they are legal residents. The law was interpreted to make the validity of drivers' licenses coincide with the length of time the INS permits a foreigner to be in the US. But visas are often renewed, forcing Japanese businessmen and foreign students to renew their drivers' licenses several times, and generating complaints from them about the time and expense involved .
A California poll found that 55 percent of the state's residents were "extremely concerned" about illegal immigration, versus about 75 percent who were concerned about AIDS, public schools, and crime.
Steve James, "California educators oppose immigrant initiative," Reuters, October 23, 1995. Paul Feldman and Patrick McDonnell, "Judge holds off ruling on legality of Prop 187," Los Angeles Times, October 24, 1995. Steve James, " California educators oppose immigrant initiative," Reuters North American Wire, October 23, 1995.