California's Proposition 187 Shows Hate and Fear
As Mexicans we have followed closely the events leading to the approval last Tuesday of Proposition 187 in the state of California.
While we recognize the right of the citizens of any country to decide on their laws and forms of government, and the right of all countries to control their borders, we wish to express our opinion on some aspects of the proposed legislation and the political campaign surrounding it that we find disturbing.
Proposition 187 has been called by its supporters the "Save Our State" proposition. The implication in the text of the proposition, and in the statements made to support it, is that illegal immigrants are largely to blame for the economic hardship and social unrest that have marked California's recent past.
This is simply false. The great majority of them work hard at simple jobs for less than minimum-wage pay. Their labor provides the people in California with valuable goods and services at lower prices than would be possible otherwise.
The great majority of them commit no other crime than to ignore the border in their pursuit of a chance out of poverty. For this chance they leave behind their heritage and are denied the right to be full members of the society in which they live.
In the best case, they suffer the disdain of their neighbors and, in the worst, become the victims of crimes of hate. These people without a voice have been made by Proposition 187 the scapegoat for the problems of California, to the political benefit of those who seem to be unwilling or unable to deal constructively with the issues facing the state.
One of the means chosen by the writers of Proposition 187 to "protect" the citizens of California from this "menace" is to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving state-funded education and non-emergency health care. The proposed law requires any state agency providing these services to deny them to anyone whom they "reasonably suspect" to be in the country illegally. It requires the schools to verify the immigration status not only of the students, but also of their parents or guardians.
Are U.S.-born children to be denied an opportunity to receive an education in California if one can "reasonably suspect" that their parents are in the country illegally?
The United States has a long tradition of championing the respect of human rights throughout the world. Is not access to education and health care a fundamental human right?
In fact, the most disturbing aspect of this proposal is not the lack of a sound economic justification for refusing to provide these services (just consider the cost of the increase in crime and emergency medical service with 400,000 children out of school, and over a million people with no preventive medicine), but the denial of the human dignity of the migrant workers that it writes into law.
Proposition 187 goes one step further and establishes a system of required notification to the INS of any person that has requested a public service and is under "reasonable suspicion" of being in the country illegally. It creates a police state in which teachers and doctors are required by law not to serve everyone in their community but to be on the lookout for "reasonable suspects."
Measures like this can only further polarize a society already suffering the consequences of serious racial and ethnic tension. Xenophobic measures like this, specially when aimed at our compatriots, hurt us deeply. After all, what is meant by the phrase "reasonable suspect?" It seems many Californians have forgotten the origins of their state and long history of Hispanic inhabitants in that land.
For all these reasons we were shocked last Tuesday when the people of California let their disenchantment become a cry of hate and fear.
This was perhaps particularly disturbing to us who, as guests of the United States throughout our studies at MIT, have enjoyed the generosity of this country and have come to understand the immense opportunities that lay ahead for both our nations if we let differences aside and build constructively from common ground. This is why today we join many others in lending our voices to our migrant brothers and sisters.
We ask the people of the United States to stop destructive measures like Proposition 187, and to preserve an environment of collaboration and mutual respect between our two countries.
Alejandro Cano G
Gerardo Lemus G
Rodrigo Rubio G
Marcos Escobar G
Ivan Castillo '96
Joaquin S. Terrones '97