#187 Illegal Aliens. Ineligibility for public services.
Verification and Reporting.

by Nancy H. Martis
Copyright 1994, California Journal

An initiative statute, nicknamed the "Save Our State" initiative, that
seeks to deny public social, educational and health services to aliens who
are in California illegally.

Background: As certain as the seasons, issues surrounding illegal
immigrants and their rights in society come around again and again. As
humanity speeds toward the turn of a new century, a look back offers glimpses
of a conflict that has surrounded immigration in this state since California
joined the union. In early 1900, for example, the Legislature fervently
debated for seven straight sessions the issue of "alien land laws," as though
it were the annual state budget. The 1913 Legislature made no apologies when
it ultimately passed a law designed to prevent Asian immigrants from owning
and leasing agricultural land despite its clear intent to suppress
undocumented residents. The law was signed by Progressive Governor Hiram
Johnson over the objection of President Woodrow Wilson.

Today, one of the cornerstone issues of the 1994 governor's race involves
illegal immigration. A major issue in all border states, illegal immigration
appears to be a puzzle government and society alike have been unable to
solve. But even in California, where the U.S. Immigration Naturalization
Service reports an estimated 1.6 million undocumented immigrants live, voters
recently polled ranked 13 other issues as more pressing for the state.
Nonetheless, immigration reform is on the table and an initiative has
qualified for the ballot that would exclude immigrants unable to prove their
legal residence status from public education, non emergency health care and
public social services like welfare. Recent polls show the measure is
favorably received by 60 percent of voters surveyed.

The constitutionality of the measure is already being questioned. The
Senate Office of Research warns that in many instances, the initiative
conflicts with state and federal laws. Currently, no child is denied public
education based on legal residence status; the Supreme Court ruled in 1982 in
Plyler v. Doe that undocumented children are entitled to a public education.
A measure similar to Proposition 187 failed on the street during the
signature gathering phase when it did not obtain the signatures to back it.
The abandoned measure did not contain the education ban, which its backers
had feared would raise the cockles of the influential California Teachers
Association (CTA). It did; the CTA opposes Proposition 187. The education
exclusion doesn't apply to publicly funded higher education; however,
University of California and California Community Colleges generally require
students who are illegal immigrants to pay the higher, non resident tuition.
California State University does not charge higher fees based on legal
residence of the student. Also, any child living in California may receive
welfare or foster care benefits under Aid to Families with Dependent Children

A rather tricky provision in the initiative calls for verification of
legal residence and the reporting of "suspected" illegal immigrants to
officials. Currently, no mechanism exists to verify residence, outside of the
"green card," and the Legislative Analyst's office estimates it would cost
$100 million in the first year alone to create a system to comply with the

In April, a federal lawsuit was filed by Governor Pete Wilson to try to
recoup money he said the state spent providing public services to illegal
immigrants. Although it was immediately labeled by Democrats as election year
politics, it linked Wilson's name with the issue and the initiative, which he
has endorsed. His Democratic challenger, Kathleen Brown, opposes it. While
the legislative analyst reports that annual savings would be roughly $200
million to the state and local governments, opponents point out that the
measure jeopardizes needed federal money, to the tune of $15 billion.

Proposal: Proposition 187 bans illegal immigrants from public social
services, non emergency health care and public education. Various state and
local agencies would be required to report anyone suspected of being an
illegal immigrant to the state attorney general and U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS). The attorney general would be required to
maintain records and transmit reports to INS. Manufacturing, distributing or
selling false citizenship or residence documents illegal under existing
state law would become a felony. The proposal's fiscal impact would be
felt three ways, the legislative analyst estimates. State and local
governments would realize savings from denying certain benefits and services
to persons who cannot document their citizenship or legal immigration status,
and this could amount to $200 million annually, based on INS estimates.
However, the state, local governments and schools would incur significant
costs to verify citizenship or immigration status of students, parents,
persons seeking health care services or social services, and persons who are
arrested. This could total tens of millions of dollars annually, with
first year costs considerably higher, potentially in excess of $100 million.
Finally, there would be a potential loss of federal funds up to $15
billion annually in federal money for education health and welfare programs
due to conflicts with federal requirements.

Arguments for: Mainly backed and funded by Republican interests, the
primary proponent is Assemblyman Dick Mountjoy (R Monrovia). The measure was
written by Alan Nelson, a former federal immigration commissioner under
President Ronald Reagan, and Harold Ezell, western region commissioner of INS
during same period. They claim Proposition 187 will end the "illegal alien
invasion" and ultimately "save our state." Because welfare, medical and
educational benefits are the "magnets" that draw illegal immigrants to the
state, proponents claim, access to such services should be cut off. They
also claim that opposition to the measure is funded by special interests
which reap the benefits of providing services to illegal immigrants, such as
public unions and medical clinics. Proponents state that government has been
derelict in controlling the borders, so it falls upon the state to "send a
strong message that California will no longer tolerate the dereliction of the
duty by our politicians."

Arguments against: Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, CTA
President D.A. "Del" Weber, and California Medical Association President
Ralph R. Ocampo say that Proposition 187 is closer to the bull's tail than
the bull's eye. The question of how to deal with illegal immigration is not,
they claim, whether or not to provide public services to illegal immigrants
but rather what should be done to "beef up enforcement at the border." While
opponents concur that illegal immigration is a real problem, they say that
187 is not the solution. Border enforcement and cracking down on employers
who hire illegal immigrants are part of the answer opponents say is not
addressed in the initiative. Financially, they argue that combining new costs
that would be incurred to enforce the verification requirement with billions
of dollars in federal monies would place at risk $15 billion. Opponents say
this is the equivalent of risking $150 for every dollar saved. They also
point out the public health risk of denying illegal immigrants basic services
such as immunizations, which help control communicable diseases. Among other
groups opposed to Proposition 187 are the California Association of Hospitals
and Health Systems, the League of Women Voters and the Congress of California


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