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California Proposition 187

California Proposition 187 (also known as the Save Our State (SOS) initiative) was a 1994 ballot initiative to establish a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibit illegal aliens from using health care, public education, and other services in the State of California. Voters passed the proposed law as a referendum in November 1994. The law was challenged in a legal suit and found unconstitutional by a federal district court. In 1999, Governor Gray Davis halted state appeals of this ruling.

Passage of Proposition 187 reflected state residents' concerns about illegal immigration into the United States and the large Hispanic population in California. Opponents believed the law was discriminatory against immigrants of Hispanic or Asian origin; supporters generally insisted that their concerns were economic: that the state could not afford to provide social services for so many illegal residents.[1][2]


  • Background and passage 1
  • Results 2
  • Key elements of Proposition 187 3
  • Opposition 4
  • Legal challenges 5
  • Subsequent developments 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9

Background and passage

In 1994, California had an estimated 1.3 million illegal immigrants, which included approximately 308,000 illegal alien children. Residents were increasingly concerned about the costs of providing services to the families of illegal immigrants.[3]

The Republican assemblyman Dick Mountjoy of Monrovia introduced Proposition 187 to the state legislature as the "Save Our State" (SOS) initiative. It gained enough signatures to be placed on the ballot as a referendum vote during the general election on November 8, 1994. Originally one of several immigration reform bills placed before the California legislature in the early 1990s, polls surveying community responses showed that Proposition 187 began with widespread support - a 37-point lead in July 1994, and 62-29% lead among likely voters by September 1994.[4] Proponents of the bill estimated that California spent $3 billion per year on services for illegal immigrants, about half of which provided education to children of illegal immigrants.[5]

Governor Pete Wilson, a Republican, was a prominent supporter of Proposition 187, which ultimately became a key issue during his 1994 re-election campaign against Democratic opponent Kathleen Brown. After facing record low approval ratings during his first term, Wilson trailed Brown in opinion polls by more than 20% early during the gubernatorial campaign. Commentators considered his aggressive support of the Proposition 187 as crucial to his re-election.[6]

In the days leading up to the election, Wilson said that he would require all state and local government employees to report suspected illegal immigrants to the Attorney General's Office if Proposition 187 passed. State Attorney General Dan Lungren, also running for re-election, agreed to enforce emergency regulations to implement the law immediately after the election.

During the United States Senate election in California, 1994 campaign, the incumbent Senator Dianne Feinstein and Republican challenger Michael Huffington both adopted tough policies against illegal immigration. The candidates each revealed that they had previously hired illegal immigrants for housekeeping and childcare. Unlike Feinstein, Huffington had hired an illegal housekeeper after the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which made it illegal to knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Feinstein was narrowly re-elected.[7]

President Bill Clinton urged Californians to reject Proposition 187 as an impediment to federal policy on immigration. After admitting that "it is not wrong for you [Californians] to want to reduce illegal immigration," Clinton asked voters to allow the federal government to "keep working on what we're doing."[7]

In the days leading up to the referendum vote, Latino students organized large protests of Proposition 187 across the state, including a mass boycott of high schools. Their protests often included waving the Mexican flag, a controversial symbol that was described by opponents as counterproductive.[7]

On November 8, 1994, California voters approved the proposition by a wide margin: 59% to 41%.[8] According to the Los Angeles Times exit polls, 63% of white (non-Hispanic) voters and 23% of Latino voters voted for Proposition 187; African-American and ethnic Asian voters split their voting equally for and against the law. Although non-Hispanic whites comprised 57% of California's population at the time, they comprised 81% of voters in the 1994 general election. Latinos totaled 8% of voters, although they comprised 26% of the state's population.

While 78% of Republicans and 62% of Independents voted for the initiative, Democratic voters opposed the measure by 64%.[9]

Section 1 of Proposition 187 provides this introduction:

The People of California find and declare as follows: That they have suffered and are suffering economic hardship caused by the presence of illegal immigrants in this state. That they have suffered and are suffering personal injury and damage caused by the criminal conduct of illegal immigrants in this state. That they have a right to the protection of their government from any person or persons entering this country unlawfully.


Proposition 187
Choice Votes %
Referendum passed Yes 5,063,537 58.93
No 3,529,432 41.07
Valid votes 8,592,969 96.54
Invalid or blank votes 307,667 3.46
Total votes 8,900,636 100.00
Registered voters and turnout 14,723,784 60.45
Source: 1994 Statement of Vote

Key elements of Proposition 187

Proposition 187 included the following key elements:[4]

  1. All law enforcement agents who suspect that a person who has been arrested is in violation of immigration laws must investigate the detainee's immigration status, and if they find evidence of illegality they must report it to the attorney general of California, and to the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). They must also notify the detainee of his or her apparent status as an alien.
  2. Local governments are prohibited from preventing or limiting the fulfillment of this requirement.
  3. If government agents suspect anyone applying for benefits of being illegal immigrants, the agents must report their suspicions in writing to the appropriate enforcement authorities.
  4. A person shall not receive any public social services until he or she has been verified as a United States citizen or as a lawfully admitted alien.
  5. A person shall not receive any health care services from a publicly funded health care facility until he or she meets the requirements above.
  6. A public elementary or secondary school shall not admit or permit the attendance of any child until he or she meets the requirements above.
  7. By 1996, each school district shall verify the legal status of each child enrolled within the district and the legal status of each parent or guardian of each child.
  8. A child who is in violation of the requirements above shall not continue to attend the school 90 days from the date of notice to the attorney general and INS.
  9. The attorney general must keep records on all such cases and make them available to any other government entity that wishes to inspect them.
  10. The manufacture, distribution, sale, or use of false citizenship or residency documents is a state felony punishable by imprisonment or fine.


After the bill's passage, activists on campuses, churches, and ethnic communities in California and across the country rallied to express opposition to Proposition 187. Critics argued that the bill was xenophobic and discriminated against ethnic minorities, especially those of Latino origin. Others were fearful that the costs of a state-run citizenship screening system and the potential loss of federal funds would off-set any savings of denying public benefits to illegal aliens.[10] The day after the law was approved, an alliance of Latino and civil rights groups, including Disneyland, a major tourist attraction.[12]

Proposition 187 was widely supported by conservatives. However, some prominent conservatives, including former Congressman and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp, former Secretary of Education William Bennett, and unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Unz, publicly opposed the initiative.[13][14]

Due to Proposition 187's statutes requiring children and their parents or legal guardians to prove their legal status, the California State Parent-Teacher Association joined in opposing the bill.[15] The Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Gray Davis, who succeeded Wilson, campaigned against Proposition 187. On October 16, 1994, three weeks before Proposition 187 was passed, more than 70,000 people marched in downtown Los Angeles against the measure.[16]

The Mexican president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, decried the law as xenophobic and harmful to the human rights of migrant laborers. One week after the bill was approved, Salinas proposed cross-border discussions to develop a "guest worker" program that would permit non-resident Mexicans to work legally in the United States.[17] Such a program had been in place during World War II.

Legal challenges

The constitutionality of Proposition 187 was challenged by several lawsuits. On November 11, 1994, three days after the bill's passage, Federal Judge Matthew Byrne issued a temporary restraining order against institution of the measure, which was filed by State Attorney General Dan Lungren.[18] After Judge Mariana Pfaelzer issued a permanent injunction of Proposition 187 in December 1994, blocking all provisions except those dealing with higher education and false documents, multiple cases were consolidated and brought before the federal court. In November 1997, Pfaelzer found the law to be unconstitutional on the basis that it infringed on the federal government's exclusive jurisdiction over matters relating to immigration.[19] Pfaelzer also explained that Proposition 187's effect on the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, the Congressional overhaul of the American welfare system, proved that the bill was a "scheme" to regulate immigration:

"California is powerless to enact its own legislative scheme to regulate immigration. It is likewise powerless to enact its own legislative scheme to regulate alien access to public benefits."

Governor Wilson appealed the ruling, which brought the case to the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. But in 1999, the newly elected Democratic Governor Gray Davis had the case brought before mediation.[20] His administration withdrew the appeal before the courts in July 1999, effectively killing the law.[21]

California repealed the unenforceable sections of Proposition 187 in 2014.[22] In September 2014, California passed Bill SB 396 that removes passages from Prop. 187 from California's education, health and safety, and welfare codes, as a symbolic act after the repeal of Prop.187.[23]

Subsequent developments

Noting a rapid increase in the Latino participation in California elections, some analysts cite Governor Wilson's and the Republican Party's embrace of Proposition 187 as a cause of the subsequent failure of the party to win statewide elections.[24] [25] Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, an immigrant himself, is the only Republican to win a California gubernatorial, senatorial, or presidential election since 1994. Conservative group Eagle Forum instead argues that immigration, whether legal or not, made California's electorate more liberal.[26]

Between 1995 and 2004 the following states have had similar ballot initiatives or laws passed: Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma and Texas.[27]

See also


  1. ^ ENRIQUEZ, SAM (October 19, 1994). "Jewish Coalition Opposes Prop. 187". Los Angeles Times. p. 2. 
  2. ^ Bock, Alan W. (October 2, 1994). "Sorting through facts and fiction of immigration". Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). p. J.01. 
  3. ^ Margolis, Jeffrey R. "Closing the Doors to the Land of Opportunity: The Constitutional Controversy Surrounding Proposition 187", The University of Miami Inter-American Law Review, Vol 26, No. 2: pp. 368-369
  4. ^ a b Nancy H. Martis (1994). "#187 Illegal immigrants. Ineligibility for public services. Verification and Reporting.". California Voter Foundation. Retrieved June 13, 2010. 
  5. ^ Margolis, p. 369
  6. ^ DECKER, CATHLEEN; WEINTRAUB, DANIEL M. (November 10, 1994). "Wilson Savors Win; Democrats Assess Damage". Los Angeles Times. p. 1. 
  7. ^ a b c Martin, Philip. "Proposition 187 in California", International Migration Review, Vol 29, No. 1: pp. 258-259
  8. ^ "1994 General election results", Save Our State (SOS) Website
  9. ^ California Opinion Index: "A summary analysis of Voting in the 1994 General Election", Field Poll Online
  10. ^ Suarez-Orozco, Marcelo M. "California Dreaming: Proposition 187 and the Cultural Psychology of Racial and Ethnic Exclusion", Anthropology & Education, Vol 27. No 2. p. 161
  11. ^ McDonnell, Patrick J. (July 29, 1999). "Davis Won't Appeal Prop. 187 Ruling, Ending Court Battles [2]". Los Angeles Times. p. 1. 
  12. ^ Suarez-Orozco, p. 161
  13. ^ Matthew Miller (1999-07-19). "Ron Unz's Improbable Assault on the Powers That Be in California". New Republic. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  14. ^ Martin, p. 260.
  15. ^ Suarez-Orozco, p. 161.
  16. ^ Los Angeles Times (1994-10-17). "70,000 March Against Immigration Bill". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2010-11-14. 
  17. ^ Martin, p. 261.
  18. ^ "Why Proposition 187 Won't Work". The New York Times. 1994-11-20. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  19. ^ Patrick J. Mcdonnell (1997-11-15). "Prop. 187 Found Unconstitutional by Federal Judge". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  20. ^ Dave Lesher and Dan Morain (1999-04-16). "Davis Asks Court to Mediate on Prop. 187". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  21. ^ Patrick J. Mcdonnell (1999-07-29). "Davis Won't Appeal Prop. 187 Ruling, Ending Court Battles". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  22. ^ McGreevy, Patrick (2014-09-15). "Gov. Brown signs bill repealing unenforceable parts of Prop. 187". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-09-16. 
  23. ^ McGreevy/Willon. "Brown Signs Bill Cutting Language on Undocumented Immigrants". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 17 September 2014. 
  24. ^ Raoul Lowery Contreras (2002-08-16). "The death of the California GOP". Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  25. ^ "The Prop 187 Effect: How the California GOP lost their way and implications for 2014 and beyond". Latino Decisions (in en-US). Retrieved 2015-10-13. 
  26. ^ Eagle Forum (2014-06). "How Mass (Legal) Immigration Dooms a Conservative Republican Party". Retrieved 2014-09-16. 
  27. ^ Lacayo, Richard (2004-12-19). "Down on the Downtrodden".  


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