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Prop. 187 is the bad idea that still haunts California

Ruben Navarrette Jr. on

SAN DIEGO -- Does anyone know the year of the California Civil War?

It was 1994. And while you won't find any monuments commemorating the battles, the term "civil war" aptly describes what was happening in the Golden State 25 years ago.

Families were split. There was a hostility in the air.

All because the most populous, and most productive, state in the country decided to rip itself apart at the seams by ungratefully making life miserable for the illegal immigrants who helped keep its economy humming.

Ground zero was Southern California. As a radio talk show host in Los Angeles at the time, and contributor to the opinion pages of the Los Angeles Times, I was in the thick of it.

The war was waged not with bullets but with ballots. It was sparked by a kneejerk, mean-spirited and poorly thought out initiative on the November ballot called Prop. 187.

 

The state Republican Party got behind the measure, and eventually wound up buried under it.

Why sugarcoat it? Prop. 187 was pure evil. It zeroed in on a powerless and vulnerable group of people -- undocumented immigrants -- and punished them for being so productive as to constantly be in demand. This group worked so hard, without complaint, that U.S. employers -- including the American household -- couldn't stop hiring them. And the more hiring that took place, the more immigrants came to California, which only caused more panic among that segment of the population that feared that a state that was originally the property of Mexico was reverting back to its roots.

The immigration debate is about only one thing: fear -- of changing demographics and the cultural displacement those changes bring with them.

In an American tradition that goes back 250 years, restrictionists always feel the need to demonize immigrants by portraying them as inferior to the native-born. Fill in the blank: Germans, Irish, Chinese, Italians, Greeks, Jews.

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