Californians Will Try Again To Deny Benefits to Illegals

California’s political and judicial establishment sabotaged Proposition 187, the 1994 voter-passed ballot initiative that would have withheld many public benefits from illegal aliens. Now, ten years and millions of estimated illegal border crossings later, the same Tustin, Calif., accountant who was a major force behind Prop 187 is trying to pass a similar initiative. Ron Prince believes that his second attempt, called the Save Our State Initiative (SOS), will fare better. The 1996 federal welfare reform law strengthens the hand of state-level immigration reformers, he argued in an interview SOS also leaves out the most legally contentious issues that were the pretext for the abrogation of Prop 187. Prop 187 passed with 59% of California’s vote but after years of legal wrangling, it was mostly nullified when then-Democratic Gov. Gray Davis dropped the state’s appeal of a federal judge’s ruling that most of the proposition was unconstitutional. “The 187 case is dead,” said Prince when asked if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R.) could appeal the case. “There is nothing to appeal.” Foremost among those legal issues is access to public schools: Prop 187 would have kept illegal immigrant children out of public schools whereas SOS (which has no number yet) would not. “In the 1982 Plyler v. Doe case,” said Prince, “the U.S. Supreme Court said that everyone in this country was entitled to a free public education regardless of immigration status.” By leaving aside the issue of public schooling for illegal aliens, SOS avoids a major potential legal challenge. SOS denies what are legally termed “public benefits” to foreign nationals who have broken U.S. immigration law by entering the United States illegally. The proposal uses the same definition of “public benefits” as the 1996 federal welfare reform law. “All legal challenges to the 1996 law have failed so far,” said Prince. “By using the same definition, we avoid the problem of being accused of setting an immigration policy different from that of the federal government. The 1996 law says that giving welfare is an inducement to illegal immigration. But then it says states can give them benefits if they want to.” If SOS gets on the ballot, California’s voters will get another chance to decide if they want to. Says SOS, “Neither the state nor any of its political subdivisions shall contradict the objectives of federal immigration policy, nor shall they provide any state or local public benefit, as defined in Title 8 of the United States Code, to any alien classified as ineligible for federal public benefits by that Code.” Title 8 defines public benefits to include most welfare (including unemployment, retirement, disability, non-emergency health, and food assistance), public housing, grants, loans, and professional and commercial licenses. The initiative would require state employees to verify the status of those who apply for public benefits, and even makes it a misdemeanor for state employees who administer public benefits to fail to report to the feds illegal aliens who try to get those benefits. State and local police would not be required to report illegals, however. Mike Spence, president of the conservative California Republican Assembly, said that the decision to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens by Davis and the Democratic state legislature—and the subsequent repeal of that measure in the face of massive public opposition—has moved illegal immigration back toward the top of the political agenda in California. “It’s time for the GOP to deal with the issue and stop ignoring it,” said Spence, an SOS supporter. “It will pass if it gets on the ballot.” Major Prop 187 backer Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R.-Calif.) is not so sure. Though he strongly supports barring illegal aliens from public benefits and is not opposing SOS, he questioned the wisdom of making a failure by state employees to report illegal aliens a misdemeanor. “I think the focus should be on changing public policy, not arresting public employees,” he said. SOS also forbids the acceptance, by state and local officials, of the increasingly popular matricula consular ID cards that some consulates, including those of Mexico, issue to their nationals illegally residing here in order to facilitate their law-breaking—a provision not in Prop 187. It would also preserve driver’s licenses for legal residents only. Unlike Prop 187, SOS is a constitutional amendment and thus, if approved, could not be challenged on the grounds that it conflicts with the state constitution. But this also means Prince must get more signatures (598,000 total) to get SOS on the November ballot than it took to get Prop 187 on the ballot nine years ago. He has until April 15 to do it. Some California immigration hawks fear that SOS will not qualify for the ballot this year because major grassroots networks have not yet mobilized and fundraising is slow. “I am providing most of the funding for this myself, so far, but we do take donations,” said Prince. “I think it will take less money than last time because we have the Internet.” Petitions to have SOS placed on the ballot can be found at “I think 187 was a good proposition that passed overwhelmingly, and I think this one will, too,” former State Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian (R.), who is running for the Republican nomination to take on Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.), told HUMAN EVENTS. Kaloogian supported Prop 187 and now backs SOS. “A distinction has to be made between legal immigration and citizenship on the one side, and illegal immigration on the other. No one’s against immigration. I am the son of an immigrant, and now we have a Republican governor who is an immigrant himself.” We must “take away the incentives for illegal immigration,” Kaloogian said. During his gubernatorial campaign, Schwarzenegger conceded that he voted for Prop 187, but he has not taken a position on SOS. “We typically don’t comment on initiatives until they qualify for the ballot,” said a member of the governor’s staff last week. “If it got on the ballot, it would pass with a greater margin than 187,” predicted former State Sen. Dick Mountjoy (R.), a long-time immigration hawk. “The illegal alien issue in California is a tinderbox. . . . I’ll do whatever Ron wants me to do for the initiative.”