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April 1995, Volume 2, Number 4

State Activities to Deter Illegal Immigration

Prop. 187 in California may have marked a new era in state and local government activism to reduce illegal immigration. Virginia is estimating the number and cost of illegal immigrants in order to seek federal reimbursement, and Maryland has held hearings on whether English should be the official state language.

In Florida, the Orlando-based group Save Our State is planning to put an initiative on the November 1996 ballot to withhold publicly-funded services from unauthorized aliens. It needs 50,000 signatures to have the proposed constitutional amendment reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court, and 430,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

In California, a federal judge on March 13 scheduled a trial for September 6, 1995 on the constitutionality of Proposition 187. The State of California had sought to have the constitutionality of Proposition 187 determined first in California state courts. A bill has been introduced in Congress to require three rather than one federal judge to agree to issue an injunction to block the implementation of a voter-approved initiative.

According to a Los Angeles Times poll that included non-voters and non-US citizens, most Californians think that the passage of Prop. 187 was a good thing. Most want Prop. 187 to be implemented immediately; 52 percent want Prop. 187 implemented immediately, while 38 percent do not. Only Latinos--by 54 percent to 35 percent--do not want Prop. 187 implemented immediately.

By 53 percent to 40 percent, those questioned thought that passage of Prop. 187 was a "good thing." Only nine percent of those questioned thought that there had been a major increase in discrimination since the passage of Prop. 187.

Yale law professor Peter Schuck reviews the likelihood that the courts will eventually uphold 187, and notes that there is ample precedent for the US Supreme Court to uphold or to strike down the proposition. Schuck believes that it would be wrong to uphold 187, largely because the optimal level of illegal immigration is not zero--it costs too much to completely stop immigration--and so the illegal aliens who inevitably arrive should receive public education and emergency health care.

Schuck also believes that it would be foolish to make ineligible for welfare benefits legal immigrants in the US, since, he asserts, Congress can discriminate against legal immigrants in welfare programs, but the states cannot without Congressional approval, so that a federal ban may wind up simply increasing state and local costs.

There are currently four bills before Congress that would declare English to be the official national language. Under English-only rules, bilingual ballots are banned, government documents are printed only in English, and government workers must speak English at work. Three of the four bills would also abolish Bilingual programs in the US Education Department.

California Governor Pete Wilson announced that he would "explore" seeking the Republican presidential nomination, and signaled that two of his themes would be opposition to illegal immigration and affirmative action. However, President Clinton responded that "some" who supported Prop. 187 in 1994 to reduce illegal immigration had laid the ground work for illegal immigration in 1984-85, when Congress approved an "easy" farm worker legalization program that permitted over half of the mostly young Mexican men who became legal US immigrants to gain that status fraudulently.

If illegal immigration becomes a major issue in the 1996 campaign, the 1983-86 campaign by western growers for a "free agent" guest worker program is likely to be scrutinized closely. The kingpin was Rep. Coehlo (D-CA) who arranged to have former Rep. Panetta, currently Clinton's chief of staff, carry a bill that would have permitted Mexican workers to enter the US and "float" from farm to farm as needed. After the House approved such a program in 1994, then Senator Wilson persuaded the Senate to approve a similar program in 1985.

Unions, churches, and ethnic organizations strongly opposed these non-immigrant programs, setting the stage for the last-minute compromise in 1986--a legalization program for all unauthorized workers who had a minimal attachment to US agriculture.

Leo Rennert, "Clinton sharpening contrast with Wilson," Sacramento Bee, March 24, 1995, A6. Peter Schuck, "The Message of 187," The American Prospect, Spring 1995, No 21, 85-92; Paul Feldman, "Federal judge orders trial on challenges to Prop 187," Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1995. Maria Puente, "'English only' movement picks up steam," USA Today, March 14, 1995. Paul Feldman, "Majority Wants End to court Challenges of Proposition 187," Los Angeles Times, March 13, 1995, A1. Pamela Constable, "Battles Brew Over Bills Aimed at Immigrants," The Washington Post, March 10, 1995.