Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

CALIFORNIA'S PROP 187 Places Colleges in A Bind: Students React with Nationwide Protests

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

CALIFORNIA'S PROP 187 Places Colleges in A Bind: Students React with Nationwide Protests

Article excerpt

CALIFORNIA'S PROP 187 Places Colleges In A Bind: Students React with. Nationwide Protests

by Roberto Rodriguez

In response to passage of California's Proposition 187 -- labeled the anti-immigrant initiative -- college students nationwide have been staging daily protests. Currently, there are eight lawsuits holding up its implementation.

The college rallies have come within a larger framework of protests staged by unions, community organizations and middle and high school students. There have also been calls for massive boycotts against supporters of the proposition.

The purpose of the student protests has been to both show displeasure with the measure and its supporters and to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the country.

But "this issue is going to spread nationwide," says Georgetown student Enrique Garza, president of the East Coast Chicano Student Forum, a grouping of student organizations at 22 East Coast colleges. Many of the protesters believe that anti-immigrant forces have received reassurances from the new Republican leadership in Congress that the lawmakers will take California's lead in emulating Proposition 187, also known as the SOS or Save our State initiative.

Wide Probibition

SOS, which received 59 percent of the vote on Election Day, seeks to prohibit all aid and services, including health and education, to undocumented immigrants -- except for emergency medical services. (Prior to 187, except for emergency medical services and K-12 education, it was already illegal for undocumented immigrants to receive public aid or social services.) It also would require doctors, nurses, police officers, educators, school administrators and other public servants to identify and turn in "suspected illegal aliens" to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

In a symbolic gesture, on the day after the election, Gov. Pete Wilson (R), a strong proponent of SOS, signed an executive order denying prenatal care to undocumented women.

Exit polls show that two-thirds of whites voted for the proposition while upwards of three-fourths of Latinos voted against it. Polls also show that a majority of African Americans and Asian Americans rejected it.

"It's immoral and unconstitutional," says Bill Flores, chairman of the Chicano and Latin American studies department at California State University at Fresno.

Bert Corona, who lived through the repatriation of Mexicans in the 1930s, "Operation Wetback" in the 1950s, under which more than 1 million Mexicans -- citizens and non-citizens alike -- were swept up by immigration authorities, and "Operation Jobs" in the 1980s, says, "This time, the attacks are sharper and more vicious."

Students Speak Out

Since passage of Proposition 187, a series of protests, vigils, demonstrations, sit-ins, teach-ins and forums have taken place on both coasts. The week after the vote, students at Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Smith and Hampshire colleges and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst held a joint protest and vigil, while students at Harvard held a forum and a vigil. At Vassar College, students blocked off all entrances to the dining room and began asking everyone for identification papers.

"We wanted to let people know what's going on in our communities, says Julia Rodriguez, a sophomore at Vassar. "We wanted to let them know how we feel."

At Georgetown, the students' first protest took place during a visit by President Clinton. Garza relates that he told the president to "Enforce your stance."

The president's response, Garza says, was, "I tried."

"It's good that he responded that way," says Garza, "but what he needs to say is that 'I'll veto anything [legislation] that is anti-immigrant.'"

Three thousand miles from California, students on the East Coast aren't simply in support "of our people," Garza says, because if measures such as 187 spread, they fear "it's all Americans who will be questioned. …

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