Twenty years ago next month, California voters approved Proposition 187, the infamous state ballot initiative that was designed to cut off immigrants’ access to social services, including health care and public education. The courts would strike down most of the law’s provisions (the state did not have the right to legislate immigration law or access to public benefits), but the impact of Proposition 187 has endured. While it is true that other states-notably Arizona and Alabama-have targeted immigrant populations with punitive laws, Prop 187 also triggered a powerful political awakening among the nation’s burgeoning Latino population.
On Oct. 9, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García and leaders from the Latino Victory Foundation, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), Causa, and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) gathered in Arizona to mobilize Latino voters to fight anti-immigrant efforts and increase voter participation during the November mid-term elections.
“It’s so clear, even though we are commemorating the 20th anniversary of this wakeup call of Prop 187 in California, the strategy of those who are fighting immigrants is fear, they will take whatever issue that will make people tremble.” Eskelsen GarcÍa said “We have a strategy too; it’s hope. We will prevail because hope is stronger than fear.”
“We are here to recognize the implications that these horrible pieces of legislations have in our community,” explained Hector Sanchez, President of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) and Labor Council for Latin American Advancements (LCLAA). “To propose and to continue organizing, and to select good people in Congress to have better voices overall.”
Andrea Miller, executive director of Causa, a civil rights organization in Oregon, addressed the current political fight in her state over Measure 88. Earlier this year, Oregon passed a bill with bipartisan support granting undocumented immigrants driver licenses, or “driver cards,” with limited privileges. Before the law could take effect, however, a small anti-immigrant group, was able to collect enough signatures to place the law on a statewide referendum in November.
“Right now Latino families are in the electoral battle of our lives,” Miller explained. “Sixty percent of Latinos families live in mix immigration status households… (Measure 88) not only impacts undocumented mother and fathers; it impacts their children and their families. This will allow for the basic needs of undocumented families to become mobile.” The card would not allow identification for international travel and to vote, but is designed to carry out day-to-day activities like driving to work, grocery shopping, and going to church.
Thomas Saenz, president of MALDEF labeled anti-immigration laws “boomerang laws,” because, in the long run, they will come back and hurt politicians that promote them.
“We will react to this in a positive way, to this kind of targeting. The (Latino) community will step forward and accelerate our involvement, accelerate our civic participation to change politics not just in California, not just in Arizona, but across the country,” Saenz declared. “We are here and proud to join in this commemoration of the warning and promise of Proposition 187, and the political change that it catalyzed.”