On Tuesday, November 8, 1994, California voted in favor of Proposition 187, which makes undocumented men, women and children ineligible for public social services, public health care services, public school education at elementary, secondary and post-secondary levels and requires various state and local agencies to report persons who are suspected of being undocumented to the California Attorney General and to the Immigration and Naturalization Services.
The measure contains a "suspicion clause" which requires state and local agencies to report "suspected" undocumented immigrants to the INS. However, it does not define the basis for such suspicion. How will public officials differentiate between immigrant and non-immigrant people? Is it the way you speak? The sound of your last name? The shade of your skin? The basis for such suspicion screams racism. Moreover, the fear caused by this "suspicion clause" has prevented children from attending school, mothers from attending prenatal appointments and those in need of medical attention from seeking professional help. In addition to this, several states including Texas, Illinois, Florida and Massachusetts are looking to California's Proposition 187 as they create their own anti-immigrant legislation.
Although its constitutionality has not yet been determined, Proposition 187 has already publicly, subtly and insidiously instilled fear in thousands of Californians. It reinforces the position of the political right by capitalizing on anti-immigrant sentiment in California and the United States. Proposition 187 not only dehumanizes all undocumented people, but it also requires our (those of us who are documented) complicit participation in that dehumanization. We are forced to claim our legal status at the expense of those of us who are "illegal." Because legal status is the requisite for humanness, to be "illegal" is to be subhuman. Therefore, Proposition 187 is a sharp attack on human rights which targets specific communities in California by denying them health care and education.
Historically, immigrants have been the political scapegoats for economic depression, unemployment, government failure, crime, violence, disease and the disintegration of a so-called "common American culture." For example, in 1876, California adopted an anti-immigrant constitution which describes undocumented people as "aliens, who are or may become vagrants, paupers, mendicants, criminals or invalids afflicted with contagious or infectious diseases" (Section I, Article XIX). Clearly Proposition 187 is another moment in California's long history of immigrant bashing, a moment of such profound urgency that it demands our immediate attention. As members of the Harvard community, we denounce Proposition 187 as a racist, ethnocentric and inhumane measure for which we must all take responsibility by fighting. --Nancy E. Corando --Katarina L. Sandoval --Graduate School of Education
The authors are writing on behalf of the Harvard University Coalition Against 187 and the Graduate School of Education Latina/Latino Chicana/Chicano Student Movement.