Bring Back Proposition 187

California’s special October 7 election on whether to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis ought to resurrect an issue that fainthearted Republicans have too long avoided: Should taxpayers be forced to fund education, non-emergency health care and welfare benefits for foreign nationals living illegally in the United States? In 1994, California voters answered this question with a thundering “No Way.” By 59% to 41%, they approved Proposition 187, terminating non-emergency state services for immigration lawbreakers. Eight days later, Federal District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer, a self-professed “liberal” appointed by President Jimmy Carter, issued an injunction suspending enforcement of the law. In a series of decisions between 1995 and 1998, she ruled that Prop 187 was unconstitutional. It usurped, she said, the federal government’s authority to regulate immigration. In effect, Pfaelzer told taxpayers in the nation’s largest state that no matter what laws they enact for themselves, the federal Constitution imposes on them a duty to surrender their hard-earned dollars to subsidize welfare payments, medical services and tuition for people from other countries who flout U.S. immigration law. Preposterous and Unjust Were Pfaelzer right it would mean the Constitution mandates a form of taxation without representation—the very issue that inspired the American Revolution. If a federal judge can order Californians to pay for the non-emergency health care of, say, Frenchmen living illegally in California, why can’t a federal judge order Californians to pay for the non-emergency health care of Frenchmen living in France? The proposals would be equally preposterous and unjust. Former California Gov. Pete Wilson, a moderate Republican who had angered conservatives by raising taxes and who won reelection in 1994 primarily because he supported Prop 187, fought Pfaelzer’s ruling. Wilson did so in the face of malicious assaults by Democratic Party leaders falsely portraying him, and Prop 187 supporters in general, as racists. The Democrats’ race-baiting strategy was based on their assumption that the immigration lawbreakers who would benefit most from free public services in California were not from France, but from Latin America. Thus, the Democrats’ basic argument: If you do not believe Californians should be forced to pay for public services for illegal aliens, you are anti-Latino. In fact, the truth is the opposite. Opponents of Prop 187 are forcing hardworking Mexican-Americans and other Latino Americans (as well as Americans of all other ethnic backgrounds) to pay additional taxes to provide services to immigration lawbreakers of whatever national origin. Before a federal appeals court could rule on Prop 187, however, Gray Davis, who opposed the proposition, was elected governor. Davis “negotiated” a deal with other Prop 187 opponents to simply drop the appeal in the federal courts. Davis killed Prop 187—and this is now a key item in the bill of indictment for his recall. With the removal of Davis, Prop 187 should be resurrected. The proposition is not only right, it is also indispensable to saving California from financial ruin. In April, for example, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) determined that its un-reimbursed cost for providing non-emergency health care to illegal aliens is now running $340 million per year. That means it will account for more than the aggregate $993 million deficit the DHS is expected to run over the next three years. In 1999, the Rand Corporation calculated that native-born California taxpayers pay an additional $1,200 in state and local taxes each year to subsidize services for immigrants. As a bonus, Prop 187 is still popular. Despite the demagogic race-baiting campaign to thwart it, evidence suggests that support for Prop 187 has grown. In June 1999, the Los Angeles Times conducted a massive poll of 1,179 registered California voters. Sixty percent said they supported Prop 187, only 35% said they opposed it. Prop 187 is probably more popular in California now than any politician. That may be why Arnold Schwarzenegger let it be known last week that he had voted for Prop 187. This inspired the Los Angeles Times to publish a front-page story headlined: “Schwarzenegger’s Prop 187 Support Could Hinder Him.” The story said Democrats were moving “to capitalize on his support for the initiative and his close ties to one of its key backers,” former Gov. Wilson, who is co-chairing Schwarzenegger’s campaign. When challenged on the issue, Schwarzenegger’s campaign did not back down. But it did not sound a trumpet call either. “No one understands the dreams and motivations of immigrants who come to this country more than Arnold Schwarzenegger,” spokesman Sean Walsh told the Times. “He arrived in this country with just a few dollars in his pocket, and like millions of other immigrants, was unable to speak the English language. He has great empathy for those who come here under similar circumstances. That said, he believes we are a nation governed by laws and that when our immigration laws are violated, too often undocumented immigrants are exploited.” Schwarzenegger needs to go further if he wants make a real difference for California taxpayers. He should pledge to resurrect and fully enforce Proposition 187.