This 9-minute video illustrates how demographic trends and a changing California economy in the 1990s created a backlash against immigration, only to be followed by another swing in the ideological pendulum. This lesson examines how economic and demographic forces affect the strategies of the political parties, and demonstrates how policies like Proposition 187 can produce unintended and surprising consequences.
How Prop. 187 Transformed the Immigration Debate and California Politics
Today’s immigration policies echo an anti-immigration movement from the 1990s in California.
Immigration policy has exposed some of the sharp divisions in the United States, but much of the rhetoric and policies in the news today are eerily similar to an anti-immigration movement that swept the country 20 years ago. And it all started in California, today one of the most liberal and immigrant friendly states in the country.
In the 1990s the number of illegal immigrants coming into the state of California was a divisive issue. Those who believed immigrants were responsible for the severe job losses in a recession supported Proposition 187, a ballot initiative that would deny undocumented workers and their families healthcare, education and other services. Opponents of the ballot initiative pushed back, saying the recession had been caused by a collapse of manufacturing, and that cutting off social services for those in need would be cruel and unjust.
The heated debate polarized the electorate, and Proposition 187 passed. But the victory was short lived, as the courts ruled 187 was unconstitutional: only the federal government – not the states – can regulate immigration.
But the bitter fight over Proposition 187 did have lasting impact, including sparking Bill Clinton’s national immigration policies. It also had an unintended consequence. Galvanized into action, Latinos registered to vote in massive numbers. And it set the stage for the Latino candidates who have come to hold leadership roles in state government and have helped to convert California into one of the most solidly Democratic, immigrant-friendly states in the nation.
Students will learn about the anti-immigration movement in California in the 1990s, and why it is relevant today.
- Analyze a specific instance of immigration policy debate and rhetoric.
- Classify and defend causes and effects related to Proposition 187.
- Examine U.S. immigration policy at several points in history.
- Evaluate and make generalizations about U.S. immigration policy.
- What was Proposition 187? What effect did its supporters intend for it to have?
- What effects did the attention and debate surrounding Proposition 187 have on immigration policy nationwide?
- How has U.S. immigration policy and rhetoric related to immigration policy changed over time?
- Transcript for “How Prop. 187 Transformed the Immigration Debate and California Politics” (Retro Report)
- Text of Proposition 187 (null)
- How immigration laws and rules have changed through history (This timeline provides numerous examples, several of which are included below in greater detail) (Pew Research Center)
- 1790 Nationality Act (Immigration History)
- Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 (National Archives)
- Immigration Act of 1864 (Immigration History)
- Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) (National Archives)
- Immigration Act of 1891 (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services)
- Immigration Act of 1917 (Immigration History)
- Immigration Act of 1924 (Office of the Historian)
- Bracero Agreement (1942) (UCLA Labor Center)
- Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (McCarran-Walter Act) (Office of the Historian)
- Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (Hart-Celler Act) (Immigration History)
- Immigration Reform and Control Act (1986) (Library of Congress)
- Arizona – SB 1070 (Unlike the others, this is a state-level law) (Ballotpedia)
- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (2012) (Immigration History)
- Prop 187 Timeline: The rise and fall of California’s anti-immigrant law (The Los Angeles Times)
- Prop 187 Information Page (Ballotpedia)
- “Trump’s Argument Against Immigration: We’ve Heard It Before” (Retro Report)
- Immigration and Relocation in U.S. History (Library of Congress)
- UT-Austin Immigration History Timeline (Immigration History)
- Latinx Civil Rights Resource Guide (Library of Congress)
- Common Core State Standards
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1:Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.2:Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.8:Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claims.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1:Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9:Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
- National Council for the Social Studies C3 Framework
- D1.4.9-12.Explain how supporting questions contribute to an inquiry and how, through engaging source work, new compelling and supporting questions emerge.
- D2.Civ.1.9-12.Distinguish the powers and responsibilities of local, state, tribal, national, and international civic and political institutions.
- D2.Civ.5.9-12.Evaluate citizens’ and institutions’ effectiveness in addressing social and political problems at the local, state, tribal, national, and/or international level.
- D2.Civ.13.9-12.Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences.
- D2.His.1.9-12.Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
- D2.His.2.9-12.Analyze change and continuity in historical eras.
- D2.His.5.9-12.Analyze how historical contexts shaped and continue to shape people’s perspectives.
- D2.His.12.9-12.Use questions generated about multiple historical sources to pursue further inquiry and investigate additional sources.
- D2.His.16.9-12.Integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources and interpretations into a reasoned argument about the past.