NARRATION: The 1990s were a time of building anger over immigration. And it started in a place that might surprise you California.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 8-19-93):NEWS REPORT: Illegal immigration is a serious problem in California.
NARRATION: Undocumented immigrants coming across the border were concerning to Peter Nunez, a former federal prosecutor who lived in San Diego.
PETER K. NUNEZ (FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR): Every night, the groups would gather on the Mexican side, waiting for the sun to go down. And they would gather by the hundreds, if not the thousands. And at a certain point the groups would just sort of charge across the border.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 2-8-92):NEWS REPORT: Its been dubbed the bonzai dash human waves overwhelm border guards and race into California despite the oncoming traffic.
PETER K. NUNEZ: The number of border patrol agents was totally inadequate. So, it was totally out of control.
NARRATION: California was in the middle of a recession, and while the downturn was primarily from the loss of manufacturing jobs, immigrants quickly got the blame.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 7-19-93):NEWS REPORT: Groups worried and angry about the impact of rampant immigration are multiplying.
ROBERT KILEY (FORMER POLITICAL CONSULTANT): People were losing their jobs left and right and they felt this was because of the influx of illegals coming and taking their jobs.
NARRATION: Robert Kiley was a political consultant. He and his wife started working with grassroots citizen groups, who were angry that undocumented immigrants were using taxpayer-funded social services.
ROBERT KILEY: When you went to the hospital to the emergency, they were full of people there that werent from this country. They were illegals. They were getting medical services free. Schools were being impacted, cities were being impacted.
NARRATION: The Kileys helped come up with Proposition 187, a ballot initiative that would deny government benefits to undocumented immigrants. Peter Nunez became an early supporter.
PETER K. NUNEZ: The idea was lets make California an unfriendly place for people who are here illegally, with the hope that no more would come and that those that were here would leave.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 11-4-94):NEWS REPORT: Their children would be kicked out of public schools. Educators and health care workers would be required to report anyone they suspect of being illegal.
NARRATION: It was considered an extreme idea by Democrats and some Republicans, who said it would unfairly target immigrants for the states economic trouble.
MIKE MADRID (FORMER POLITICAL DIRECTOR, CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN PARTY): The immigrants that were coming here were doing jobs that nobody wanted to do. They were farm workers. They were people who were janitors. Theyre maids.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 11-9-94):NEWS REPORT: Opponents label Proposition 187 immoral and racist.
ARCHIVAL (ABC 10-2-94):KATHLEEN BROWN: Taking innocent children and throwing them out on the streets, that that somehow is going to solve our illegal immigration problem, is simply fallacious.
RAPHAEL J. SONENSHEIN (POLITICAL SCIENTIST, CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, LOS ANGELES): People thought it wasnt really going to have much of a chance. But it turned out it hit a nerve.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 5-23-94):TOM BROKAW: More than 600,000 Californians have signed petitions calling for a halt to services illegal residents receive.
RAPHAEL J. SONENSHEIN: And then it got picked up by the politicians.
NARRATION: Republican Governor Pete Wilson, who was in a tight race for re-election, threw his campaign behind Prop 187.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 6-7-94):NEWS REPORT: Pete Wilson, asking the state with the highest unemployment to give him a second term. Wilson says dont blame him, blame illegal immigrants.
ARCHIVAL (PETE WILSON CAMPAIGN AD, 1994):The federal government wont stop them at the border yet requires us to pay billions to take care of them.
NARRATION: Wilsons campaign ad felt like a personal attack to Kevin de Leon, even though he was a citizen. His mother had come to California illegally before becoming a legal resident.
KEVIN DE LEON: It was something that was deeply personal because I witnessed my mother, I witnessed my aunt, who worked their fingers to the bone, who helped build this economy.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 11-4-94):NEWS REPORT: For Hispanics, the largest immigrant group in the state, it has become a highly emotional issue.
KEVIN DE LEON: The politicians were scapegoating, demonizing, looking for someone to blame. Thats not the America that I know.
NARRATION: De Leon didnt have much experience in politics, but he helped organize anti Prop 187 marches.
BOB KILEY: And they all brought Mexican flags. And boy that ticked off a lot of people. That polarized the issue. Polarized it. Are you for it or against it?
MIKE MADRID: The tensions just hit a fever pitch. As a young Latino, I felt unease, I think for the first time in my own city, my own country, my own state where I grew up.
ARCHIVAL (ASSOCIATED PRESS):PROTESTORS: Yes on 187! Tell them to get out!
ROBERTO SURO (PROFESSOR OF JOURNALISM, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA): Prop 187 was an expression of unhappiness with a community that was rapidly becoming less and less white.
ARCHIVAL (CONUS, 7-4-96):PROTESTORS: USA! USA! USA!
ROBERTO SURO: There was a kind of anxiety, anger, rejection out there in the country.
NARRATION: Proposition 187 and Pete Wilson won in a landslide, but the courts ruled that only the federal government can regulate immigration, and Prop 187 never went into effect.
RAPHAEL J. SONENSHEIN: What happened almost immediately after is a surge of citizenship applications and of people saying they were going to vote. A million new registered voters who were Latino in California.
KEVIN DE LEON: I thought for the very first time, perhaps we have to run for office. Enough with the demonization, enough with the scapegoating. We want to be full-fledged Americans. We want to have our voices heard. We want to have a say.
NARRATION: Kevin de Leon did run for office, and 20 years after Prop 187, he became the first Latino president of the state senate in more than a century.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, SPEECH, 10-16-14):KEVIN DE LEON: My story should not be the exception, my story should be the rule.
NARRATION: Before leaving office in 2018, he and other Latino politicians helped make California one of the most liberal and immigrant friendly states in the country a change fueled by a long-term demographic shift in the state.
MIKE MADRID: Its not just the rise of the Latino vote that has turned California so blue. From the mid-1990s up until the early part of this decade there was a mass exodus of white working-class voters. They went to surrounding states. They were being replaced by younger, poorer, immigrant voters. And that combined, that mix, is what has made California the bluest state in the union.
NARRATION: Although Proposition 187 never went into effect because states cant override federal immigration policies, it added fuel to an immigration crackdown that spread across the country in the mid-90s.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 7-2-95):NEWS REPORT: It was Prop 187 that began the anti-immigration fever a fever which has now spread to Washington.
ROBERTO SURO: Immigration went to the top of the agenda. The Clinton administration started ratcheting up immigration enforcement efforts because they were scared to death of what Prop 187 symbolized.
NARRATION: Calls for additional border barriers, expedited deportations, and for local police to enforce immigration law started to growand it was a Democrat who signed those ideas into law.
ARCHIVAL (STATE OF THE UNION, 1995):BILL CLINTON: Thats why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before.
ROBERTO SURO: It was a really fundamental change in the way the federal government goes about enforcing immigration policy and created the basis for the large scale removals that weve experienced in this country.
NARRATION: With the 2016 election of Donald Trump, immigration divided much of the country. And there were echoes of Proposition 187, from the anger
ARCHIVAL (STAR-TELEGRAM VIDEO, 2-26-16):PROTESTORS: Go back to Mexico!
NARRATION: to the rhetoric.
ARCHIVAL (NEW YORK TIMES/REUTERS 8-12-15):DONALD TRUMP: They come over to the border, they have the baby in the United States. We now take care of that baby, social security, medicare, education. Give me a break.
MIKE MADRID: Its this mix of economic insecurity combined with dramatic changes in our demography. Were seeing the story replay itself.
NARRATION: President Joseph Biden has reversed many of the restrictive immigration policies put in place by the Trump administration, but some immigration advocates want him to do more.
Californias experience in the years since Proposition 187 demonstrates that the impact of immigration on the U.S. Is hard to predict.
RAPHAEL J. SONENSHEIN: Youre not going to realize what seeds were being planted. Its never a simple story of a melting pot and its not a simple story of their taking over. Its this constant struggle between feelings of being threatened and trying to create a larger community, and I think 187 was a signpost on that.