Hispanic political veteran Kevin De Leon says racist policies that use undocumented immigrants as a scapegoat “have a long-term negative cost,” as did the Republicans who supported anti-immigrant law 187, which led them to lose their majority in California.
In an interview with Efe, the first Latino to preside over the California Senate warns that the transformation he experienced in the Golden State after Proposition 187 could be repeated in other states in the 2020 elections.
“187 is a lesson for the rest of the country, for Arizona, Florida, Texas,” he warns. “In California, Republicans dominated back then, and now we’re a very, very, blue state”.
The measure, supported by 59% of voters 25 years ago on November 8, 1994, called for the deportation of undocumented immigrants and prohibited them from accessing health care and public education in California.
The approval of the proposal, which never went into effect after a long judicial battle, ended up affecting the Republican Party that supported the initiative led by the then governor, conservative Pete Wilson, who was seeking re-election.
“The decline of Republican politicians in very powerful positions in California is due to the 187, in the short term was an easy victory, Wilson managed to re-elect, but in the long term they lost,” he insists.
De León, of Central American roots, emphasizes that 187 was aimed at hitting especially the Latino community.
“They wanted to blame us for California’s big problems, just as Trump is now using us as scapegoats,” he says.
Ironically, 25 years later Hispanics have made great strides in California, she says.
“We are a state with the largest number of Latinos in powerful political seats in the world’s fifth-largest economic power,” he says.
De León himself embodies the transformation the state underwent in these 25 years, the Democrat being the first Latino to be elected president of the state Senate in its 133-year history.
“In California, the seeds of hatred against Hispanics and division were sown, but in the end political power was harvested for Latinos,” he reflects.
De Leon, who was born in Los Angeles but grew up in a poor San Diego neighborhood while his Guatemalan mother cleaned houses in the mansions of wealthy neighborhoods, has been one of the most visible faces in the defense of migrants and the undocumented.
In 2017, a few months after President Donald Trump took office, the Democrat insisted that the Golden State become a sanctuary for immigrants and spearheaded the passage of SB 54, which limits police collaboration with federal immigration agents.
“We had to do it, the experience of 187 taught us to defend ourselves,” he insists.
But the transformation of the Republican symbol state, former President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), was achieved thanks to the large number of Latinos who became citizens after the passage of 187 and then gave a punitive vote to those who supported anti-immigrant policies.
This vision has led California to be the biggest opponent of President Donald Trump’s government, and in the last three years the Golden State has sued the Federal Administration 63 times.
Reaching this level of opposition is also a lesson of 187, in the opinion of Hispanics.
“The face of the Democratic Party in California is very different now. These days we’re closer to our working and Latino community,” he says.
Evidence of this are the approval of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, medical care for hundreds of thousands of minors and young people without legal status, but the most important thing, according to the politician, is that California is home to more than two million people without legal immigration status.
“We are home to the largest number of Mexican, Central American and undocumented migrants and that shows that we value our inclusion and diversity,” he reiterates.
From Proposition 187 only the experience gained remains because the records of its passage and regulations disappeared from California codes in 2015.
“Not a trace of my favorite initiative remains,” he says ironically.
“We have to work for a more just society, and maybe in the future we can see anti-immigrant and racist laws disappear from U.S. federal records,” he says.