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Prop. 187 issues revisited

Group takes aim at illegal immigrants

By Will Shuck Capitol Bureau Chief
Published Sunday, December 7, 2003

SACRAMENTO -- The group that backed Proposition 187 a decade ago thinks voters are once again primed to target illegal immigrants -- and experts say they're probably right.

Ron Prince and his organization Save Our State hope to tap into the same sentiment that forced Democrats last week to overturn a law that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain California driver's licenses.

"Probably in excess of 70 percent will vote for this measure," he said. That's the same percentage who oppose the driver's license law, according to exit polls taken at the time of the Oct. 7 recall election.

Prince's measure would bar undocumented immigrants from receiving welfare or from holding driver's licenses, and would bar state and local government from accepting identification cards issued by other countries. But it would not bar children from attending school, as did the similar Proposition 187, nor would it restrict emergency medical care.

Voters approved Proposition 187 in 1994, but it was later struck down by the courts.

The group has until April 29 to collect the signatures of 598,105 registered voters to put the new proposal on the November ballot.

With the help of Internet petition circulation and increasingly influential conservative talk radio, the group will likely find the signatures it needs, said David McCuan, a California State University, Sonoma, professor who studies ballot initiatives.

"Not only will they get it on the ballot, they will probably do it at a relatively low cost," McCuan said.

Prince, who has little cash on hand for a campaign, predicts he'll gather signatures for less than the $300,000 he spent on Proposition 187.

That's about a third of what it costs to qualify a typical initiative with the help of paid signature gatherers.

He'll get plenty of help from talk radio, predicted Eric Hogue, a morning drive-time talker on KTKZ-AM in Sacramento. Hogue, one of the first radio hosts to encourage the recall of Gray Davis, said Prince's issue will play well among his listeners.

"I think this would have a lot of fuel on talk radio, and it's the perfect time to run it up the flagpole," Hogue said.

He said his phone lines "light up" at the slightest mention of Senate Bill 60, the freshly repealed license law.

"People do not want people who are illegal to get something that is for legal citizens," he said. "It's as if a chiropractor has stumbled upon the nerve that is pinched. They have found it. This is it."

Prince says his latest measure is more moderate than Proposition 187.

"It says no welfare, no driver's licenses, and state and local authorities will not accept ID issued by other countries," Prince said.

"This is a rather moderate approach to a very serious problem."

The identification issue stems from recent moves to force banks and government agencies to accept the Matricula Consular, an identification card issued to Mexican nationals by Mexican consulates in this country.

Latino advocacy groups already reeling from the defeat of the license bill promise to fight what many refer to derisively as "Son of 187."

"This is going to be a huge galvanizing point for us," said Edward Headington, a spokesman for the Mexican-American Political Association.

Louis DeSipio, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a research scholar for the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, said the issue would probably galvanize both sides.

DeSipio said proponents seem to be reacting to some new realities about illegal immigration.

Recent studies, he said, found that while such migrations have slowed during every recession since World War II, the most recent economic downturn had no effect on the flow of border crossers.

"Not only didn't it decline, but it might have gone up," he said. "So if you were concerned about undocumented immigration, the evidence is that it's even more difficult to slow or stop than it was in the past."

And that infuriates a lot of people. Perhaps more now than a few years ago.

"I think it's picking up again," said John Vinson, president of the Virginia-based American Immigration Control Foundation.

"I think with the relative prosperity a few years ago, it subsided."

But as low-wage workers lose their jobs and see undocumented workers as part of the cause, and as state budgets plunge into deficit, many people seek to limit the flow of migrants.

"Many people in California are very upset about the increasing lawlessness and the lack of will to enforce immigration laws," Vinson said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn't taken a position on the measure. He's already walking a fine line with the driver's license issue. He has infuriated liberals by repealing the law and alarmed conservatives by promising to reconsider the idea next year.

"I doubt he'll take a position one way or the other," said Prince, the measure's sponsor.

Ironically, though, Schwarzenegger's ongoing "take it to the people" theme may help the measure's backers, said McCuan, since it underscores the idea that voters should bypass the Legislature and take issues into their own hands.

A decade ago, Prince and his group placed Proposition 187 on the ballot over the initial objections of the Republican Party, which later came to embrace the measure.

He may have to do the same thing this time.

"I think you have a Republican Party in California today that wants to dampen this debate," said DeSipio.

Schwarzenegger "has made it pretty clear he doesn't want to be part of that kind of divisive politics," he said. But if the issue heats up and it heads to the ballot, "He'll have to do the calculus and figure out which portion of the electorate is more important to woo."

In the end, though, the whole thing may boil down to another court case over the constitutionality of the law. DeSipio said ideology aside, "The problem with Proposition 187 was it was unconstitutional." The courts have held that one needn't be a citizen to enjoy the equal protection guarantees in the U.S. Constitution.

Prince, though, insists his measure does nothing more than enforce existing federal statute.

"The problem is getting worse, not better, and we're going to try to stop that," he said.

The Save Our State Web site is at www.save187.com.