Prop 187 Sparks Similar Drives in Other States

By Peter Schmidt — November 30, 1994 4 min read

California’s overwhelming approval of Proposition 187 has inspired residents of other states to launch similar drives to deny illegal immigrants access to public social services.

Grassroots organizations in Arizona and Florida have begun efforts to place initiatives on ballots in their states, and interest appears high in other states, including ones with smaller immigrant populations.

Officials of the Federation for American Immigration Reform and other national groups said their local chapters are pushing referendums, state legislation, and Congressional action to deny services to illegal immigrants.

“The fact that 187 passed should be a wake-up call to Congress that, if they don’t do something about illegal immigration, this is the type of thing that is going to happen,” said Richard W. Day, the chief counsel to Sen. Alan K. Simpson, R-Wyo., who is in line to head the Senate’s immigration subcommittee.

“The feeling of the public out there is such that, probably, Proposition 187 would have passed nationwide,” Mr. Day said.

Several key Republican members of Congress, including Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., likely the next Speaker of the House, have vowed to use their new leadership positions to alter immigration law. They have stopped short, however, of seeking to deny a public education to undocumented children.

Advocacy groups, meanwhile, have organized boycotts of California products and vow to fight any similar measures.

“To deny education, health, and other public services to undocumented immigrants is a massive violation of human rights,” said Maria D. Jimenez, the director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Immigration Law Enforcement Monitoring Project.

Little Official Support

Lawsuits so far have blocked implementation of Proposition 187, which state voters approved Nov. 8. (See Education Week, 11/16/94 and related story)

Gov. Pete Wilson, who backed the proposition, has predicted it will not take effect until a test case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court. He and other backers hope to spur the Justices to reconsider the Court’s ruling in Plyler v. Doe, the 1982 decision that said all children, regardless of immigration status, have a constitutional right to a public education.

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno has said the Justice Department would monitor implementation of Proposition 187, which President Clinton opposed, but had no immediate plans to take action. Mr. Wilson has expressed confidence that it ultimately can take effect without jeopardizing the state’s federal funding.

Meanwhile, other governors and members of Congress appear hesitant to target the education of illegal-immigrant children.

“It is a whole different story when you start kicking 6-year-olds out of school--politically, especially,” said Scott Montrey, a spokesman for Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Tex., who plans to introduce a bill denying illegal immigrants most public benefits other than education.

Gov. Lawton Chiles of Florida and Governor-elect George W. Bush of Texas say they want to keep illegal-immigrant children in school, even though their states have filed lawsuits seeking to force the federal government to pay a larger share of immigration costs. (See Education Week, 05/11/94.)

Some state officials have directly denounced Proposition 187. They include Judith A. Billings, the superintendent of public instruction in Washington State and the president of the Council of Chief State School Officers, who recently gave a speech calling it “unconscionable.”

‘Deep Well of Emotion’

Despite such high-profile resistance, denying a public education to illegal immigrants appears to have wide public support.

In Nebraska, where illegal immigrants are a small fraction of the population, a statewide poll commissioned by the Omaha World-Herald found that half supported cutting them off from schooling and other services.

Grassroots organizations in several states have been in touch with the groups behind Proposition 187, said Robert R. Kiley, a consultant who advised Citizens for Legal Immigration Reform, based in Tustin, Calif.

In Florida, the drive for a Proposition 187-style initiative is headed by Floridians for Immigration Control, a new group based in Delray Beach, and Citizens for Dade United, a 6,000-member group that helped pass a 1988 law designating English as the state’s official language.

“Our culture is being obliterated and substituted by Spanish language and Cuban culture,” Enos L. Schera, the vice president of Citizens of Dade United, said last week.

JoAnn K. Peart, a co-founder of Floridians for Immigration Control, asserted that illegal immigration “is just ruining our public school system with vast overcrowding and people who don’t understand the language.”

“They have all the special programs for them, with the smaller classes and the aides, and, meanwhile, our kids are packed in like sardines,” Ms. Peart maintained.

In Arizona, a similar drive is being headed by Don F. Barrington, a flamboyant figure who has offered to organize volunteer border patrols and who held a news conference where he shook his fist at a statue of the Mexican revolutionary Francisco (Pancho) Villa.

Tom Tancredo, the president of the Independence Institute, a conservative think tank based in Golden, Colo., argued that civil-rights and immigrant groups in his state have only galvanized public support for a similar initiative by protesting California’s.

“There is evidently an enormous and very deep well of emotion that was tapped by the issue,” Mr. Tancredo said.

A version of this article appeared in the November 30, 1994 edition of Education Week as Prop 187 Sparks Similar Drives in Other States