Why California Voted for Prop. 187

by Rebecca Liddicoat | 11/21/94 6:00am

Proposition 187 is a motion to deny illegal aliens in California access to free education and all but emergency health care. I am a California resident and I voted in favor of the Proposition along with 61 percent of Californians.

One week ago I heard Angela Y. Davis speak at length on the inhumanity and inherent racism in the Proposition. While race is invariably a component in California where the vast majority of the illegal immigrants come from Mexico, the complex and difficult situation that immigration causes cannot be dismissed by the convenient label of racism.

One-third of Mexican-American citizens voted in favor of the proposition in addition to a majority of both blacks and Asians.

Taxes and economics were the first things that came to my mind with the Proposition. I live in Watsonville, a town with an illegal population of approximately 30 percent, although it is impossible to know the exact number.

My father tells me that at the hospital where he is chief of staff, one quarter of the patients they see are illegal aliens and are therefore not covered by any federal program. If they are unable to pay themselves, which is usually the case, the hospital simply does not get paid for one quarter of its patients. Therefore, the only way for the hospital to survive is to grossly overcharge the citizens who can pay.

It costs $5,000 to educate one child for one year in California public schools. Is it fair that an illegal family with five children, who pays no federal or state income taxes, costs the state $25,000 per year to educate its children?

California taxes are very high in comparison to the rest of the nation. Many Californians see tax hikes as a direct result of the growing illegal alien population. Many businesses are leaving California because of tax increases and as a result, the job market is shrinking.

Californians are angry that there is a segment of the population growing faster than the rest that does not pay its share for the public services from which it profits. These people are here illegally, against the laws of the United States, and the majority of Californians do not feel it is our duty to pay for them.

But there is the question of how much illegals themselves contribute to the economy. My town is surrounded by fields of cauliflower, cabbage and strawberries. My whole life I have seen hard-working Mexicans doing the back-breaking labor that few if any U.S. citizens would consent to do. They also do it at a wage far below the legal minimum. They are a very hard-working people; I have never seen a Mexican begging in Watsonville. Their work keeps our produce cheap and affordable in the stores.

At the same time, because they don't pay taxes, their contribution is diminished and they do cost the state more than they give. Estimates differ, anywhere from a three- fold to a five-fold difference in cost and contribution.

I heard from my sister that in Watsonville there was an attempt by the students of the local high school and the townspeople to have a rally in opposition to Proposition 187. As the students marched down Main Street to the Park to have their rally, scuffles broke out among two Latino gangmembers.

The scuffle escalated into rioting between the two gangs, and in the end the rally never took place. Such an episode brought to the fore the feeling among many Watsonville residents that illegals bring crime and lawlessness with them.

The underlying idea behind Proposition 187 is the desire to stem the human flow over the Mexican-Californian border, to make California less desirable to Mexicans who want to come. It is an act of brave desperation to flee across the border, but those who succeed are rarely rewarded with the sort of American life they envisioned in Mexico. In California, many feel that by denying illegals education and health care, they will go back to Mexico and fewer new illegals will come over.

But what happens if they don't leave? There will be epidemics of disease which will break out from lack of vaccinations and check-ups. Also, there will be an uneducated class of people who would be useless to the economy and a drain on law enforcement.

Many also question the inhumanity that denies access to basic needs to a segment of the population. As a nation of immigrants, how can we tell people who want to come to America that they are not welcome? It is, however, also important to remember those people around the world who apply each year for the right to immigrate to the United States and are denied.

The numbers run into the millions of those for whom the fluke of geography does not allow them to realize their dream of coming to America by running across the border. Does it mean that just because illegal immigrants have violated American laws to come here they suddenly should automatically be allowed to stay and be given special rights?

It is certain that the problem of illegal immigration in California will not go away. If anything, it will get worse and more time must be spent trying to find a better solution than any we currently have.

The efforts of California's politicians and citizens must be acknowledged and the complexity of the situation realized and not dismissed under the convenient label of racism. There are plenty of Mexican-American citizens who voted in favor of Proposition 187, just as there are plenty of poor people who voted for it.

The key component that separates undocumented immigrants from green card holders and citizens is not their class or the color of their skin. What separates them in the mind of Californians is the fact that they don't pay taxes.

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