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Lawmakers, Immigrant Rights Activists Push to Close Chapter on Prop 187

Thousands of people take to the streets of Los Angeles in 1994 to protest Proposition 187
Thousands of people take to the streets of Los Angeles in 1994 to protest Proposition 187. | Photo: Korean Resource Center/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A controversial proposition that would have denied and restricted public services and rights for undocumented immigrants has reentered the conversation in the midst of its 20-year anniversary.

Now, legislators are vowing to repeal provisions from Proposition 187 with Senate Bill 396, which would permanently remove the proposition's hostile language from California's law books.

Proposition 187 -- known as the "Save Our State" ballot initiative -- was passed by California voters on November 1994. The ballot initiative sought to ban undocumented immigrants and their children from utilizing legal public services like health care, public education, and other services in the state of California.

Any persons suspected of being an undocumented immigrant would have been reported to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and state attorney general, according to the California Journal.

It was later deemed unconstitutional by a federal district court judge on the grounds that it violated the U.S. Constitution.

Some immigration advocates and policy makers believe that the 20-year-old proposition exacerbated xenophobic sentiments and discriminated against Latinos and undocumented immigrants. Now, lawmakers are working to erase and eliminate from the books what is now known as one of the most "mean-spirited propositions in California's history."

Joseph Villela, senior policy advocate for Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, says Senate Bill 396 would completely close the chapter on the shameful initiative that passed in 1994.

"Regardless of whether or not the initiative was deemed unconstitutional, the language is still on the books. It's still part of our statutes," Villela told KCET.

Moving forward, other states like Arizona and Alabama have passed similar anti-immigration laws that mirror some of the provisions of the 1994 California anti-immigration law,says Villela.

But he says that the passing of Prop 187 in the early 1990s opened up the eyes of the Latino immigrant community as well as the Asian Pacific Islander community. It gave birth to one of the biggest rallies and marches in L.A., including the start of the decline of the Republican party in the state, says Villela.

But over the past few years, there have also been active efforts to address immigration.

"We have made tremendous progress in making sure we integrate Americans. There's a lot of new opportunities in our state," says Villela.

The Senate and Assembly will hold combined ceremonies to remember and revisit the 20th anniversary of Proposition 187 on June 23.

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