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Lax Immigration Policies Fuel
U.S. Poverty

by Georgie Anne Geyer
The San Diego Union Tribune, August 20, 1999

For many years now, California has been developing a different democracy from the rest of the nation. Decentralization of the state's cities and institutions has reached often absurd dimensions. The "direct democracy" movement came into being here. The "Me" generation became the "Not Me!" generation here.

It was in this beautiful Golden State that political campaigns as we have historically known them were all but abolished during the last 25 years, as candidates vied through television and the Internet, and the ballot initiative became the new thermometer of civic passions.

Now California has come up with some precepts that stretch the limits of political creativity even further. The governing elite of the state has decided that: l) the majority of the vote is meaningless, 2) the decision of a single, highly ideological judge should be worth more than 59 percent of the vote, and 3) leaders of foreign countries now have the perfect right to formulate American policies.

Of course, California's Democratic Gov. Gray Davis would surely not admit to such dangerous thoughts. He sees it as only right and reasonable that he should have made a deal on Proposition 187, the 1995 citizens' ballot initiative that received 59 percent of the vote to restrict welfare, social benefits and education to illegal aliens.

Building on the single ruling by U.S. District Judge Mariana Pfaelzer that the popular 187 was unconstitutional, the pro-immigration governor refused to allow 187 to go to the Supreme Court and instead set up a mediation panel in which he personally negotiated with the anti-187 and pro-immigration lobbies.

Then, on June 29, the epic political and legal struggle seemed to be over. The governor formally announced that he had agreed not to appeal the federal court ruling, thus effectively voiding 187. But in order to make it look and sound good to everybody, he said that the kinds of citizenship controls that 187 would have provided were now provided by similar federal laws anyway. He even went so far as to state, "The spirit of 187 has been implemented."

Then, on Aug. 3, California's Democratic Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa was in Mexico City personally thanking Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo for his "great impact in defeating Proposition 187." The president's visit to California in May had been instrumental in influencing Californians, he went on, while papers such as the Los Angeles Times wrote cannily of the new "cross-border politics" that will supposedly, in the future, take away even more power from the American people.

Indeed, Gov. Davis had said during the Zedillo visit that "in the near future, people will look at California and Mexico as one magnificent region." Meanwhile, in all of this intense jockeying, the very real issues that Proposition 187 speaks to become ever more lost.

Two new studies provide unmistakable proof that the United States' wantonly lax immigration policies are fueling a dangerous increase in poverty. Both the respected Urban Institute in Washington and the federal General Accounting Office found that poverty in immigrant households is dramatically higher than that of the native born and that new immigrants use government assistance substantially more than the native born. (Here in Los Angeles, to cite one example, immigrant households constitute 59 percent of those classified as poor.)

Anti-187 circles such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund play constantly on the theme that propositions such as 187 in California are "racist." To the contrary, they are desperate attempts by responsible citizens to move around increasingly unrepresentative government, to determine how their tax monies should be spent and, by the way, to try to define what citizenship possibly means today.

If one looks at the tactics of the anti-187 groups, one can see why the Proposition 187 backers, in this struggle as well as in other similar ones in recent years in California, have had to go around the pro-immigration forces. First, those forces appeal the proposition to a sympathetic judge, who quickly dubs it "unconstitutional."

Then, in this case, the Democratic governor starts a mediation process in which the pro-187 forces do not even have a voice. It is almost laughable to contemplate that Davis was supposed to be their voice.

Finally, this governor tries to smooth everything over -- and, by the way, end the controversy completely on his terms -- with his words about how federal laws cover the same territory. Not only is this false, but the governor's record has been openly and provably that of extending more and more benefits to illegal aliens. (In one of his policies, Davis guaranteed that California taxpayers would cover the costs of prenatal care for any illegal aliens.)

The pro-187 lobby, led by Glenn Spencer, longtime citizen initiative leader, and the Pacific Legal Foundation, are rightly outraged at all of this manipulating and at these shenanigans. They are already engaged in another mammoth effort, this time to press for a recall of Gov. Davis through gathering 1.1 million signatures.

"What we're asking for is a new election in California," he told me, exulting that his movement had already had 20,000 visits to its web site on this issue without as yet any publicity. And Villaraigosa, seeing a backlash over his comments in Mexico, has already pulled back on them.

Almost certainly, California is merely the first conflict in a long national struggle over rights and responsibilities.


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