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Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America

By Hugh Davis Graham | Go to book overview

1
Introduction

I n the early 1990s, against a backdrop of economic recession and rising job insecurity in the United States, controversy over affirmative action and immigration policy intensified. For the first time since the two issues emerged in the 1970s, they were connected in the public eye. Especially in California, where shrinking defense contracts and heavy immigration from Latin America and Asia increased economic anxiety, opponents of affirmative action preferences and high levels of immigration linked their arguments. Native-born Americans unfairly suffered rising unemployment, these critics claimed, because by hiring immigrants, employers bought cheap and docile labor while satisfying minority hiring requirements imposed by the government. 1

In 1994, California voters passed Proposition 187, an initiative written to deny access by illegal immigrants to public schools, welfare assistance, and other public benefits. That same year, support for Proposition 187 helped California's Republican governor, Pete Wilson, win reelection. In 1995, the University of California regents, encouraged by Governor Wilson, an ex officio regent, prohibited affirmative action preferences in university admissions, employment, and contracts. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed a bill stripping significant welfare and health benefits from unnaturalized immigrants, and California voters passed Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), banning affirmative action preferences by state and local governments. In 1998, voters in Washington state passed a similar initiative barring minority preferences by government agencies.

Also in 1998, California voters passed Proposition 227, which terminated the state's massive program of bilingual education and replaced it with English immersion as the standard instructional model. Backers of

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