After Nearly Twenty-Five Years In California’s Spotlight, Some Perspective On Immigration And The Golden State

Thursday, August 23, 2018
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An East Coaster in my upbringing and early career, I first arrived in California in 1994—an unremarkable occurrence in a year that otherwise was chock-full of news in the Golden State.

The year 1994 witnessed California’s last major earthquake in a heavily-populated area (Los Angeles’ magnitude 6.7 Northridge Earthquake, which arrived quite rudely at 4:31 a.m. on the seventeenth day of the new year).

Twenty-five days before the year’s end, Orange County filed for the then-largest municipal bankruptcy in US history, the price paid for a felonious treasurer over-leveraging the county’s money in high-risk investments (it took “the O.C.” almost twenty-three years to pay its final bankruptcy bill).

In the northernmost reaches of Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs was fiddling with software and telling an interviewer that his life’s work “will be obsolete by the time I’m 50” (thirteen years later and a month before his fifty-second birthday, Jobs unveiled the first-generation iPhone).

Well to the south, in the upscale Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood, a former Heisman Trophy winner was arrested on two counts of homicide, eventually leading to the “Trial of the Century,” an acquittal, and—as with the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots—another episode of L.A.’s racial divide.

The year 1994 also marked a political upheaval at California’s ballot box. Republicans captured five of eight state constitutional offices and gained control of the State Assembly for only the second time dating back to 1960 (nationally, the GOP flipped fifteen chambers that had been in Democratic hands).    

And perhaps the greatest California rumbling of all: a pair of ballot initiatives whose impact would be felt for decades to come. That would be Proposition 184, the “three strikes” sentencing initiative, and Proposition 187, which sought to deny public services to illegal immigrants residing in the Golden State.

About Prop 187: it never saw the light of day (a federal judge deemed it unconstitutional and then-governor Gray Davis abandoned a legal challenge). But it marks the beginning of a heated debate— in California and nationwide—over border control, citizenship, racial assimilation, and common-sense immigration policy.

At times, immigration-related rhetoric—much like a California wildfire—flames out of control. Last month for example, the Fox News Channel’s Laura Ingraham said the following on her nationally-broadcast television show: “[I]t does seem like the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people. And they’re changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don’t like. . . . From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically in some ways the country has changed. Now, much of this is related to both illegal and, in some cases, legal immigration that, of course, progressives love.”

To which Anthony Scaramucci, briefly the Trump White House’s communications director, replied: “I really wish she wouldn’t talk like that because it sounds ignorant. . . . I hope she realizes that what she said is against American values that she’s supposedly touting.”

Ingraham later sought to clarify her remarks: “Despite what some may be contending, I made explicitly clear that my commentary had nothing to do with race or ethnicity, but rather a shared goal of keeping America safe and her citizens safe and prosperous.”

But the debate goes on . . .

From a legislative standpoint, California has marched decidedly to the left on immigration since the Prop 187 vote—more so in the last decade. The state has made it legal for undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses (over a million issued so far) and has expanded eligibility for in-state tuition to include students in California illegally. In San Francisco, non-citizens can register to vote in November’s city school-board election.

However, not all Californians are on the same page when it comes to expanding benefits and protections.

Last October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed “sanctuary state” legislation limiting local law enforcement officials’ ability to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. In May, Orange County’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to join a federal lawsuit against California’s sanctuary laws.

But on sanctuary policy, California is divided. Per this Berkeley IGS Poll, the law runs strongest along the true-blue coast—the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles County, and San Diego County. The measure is less popular in the aforementioned O.C., Central Valley, and pockets of California north of the Bay Area. While seven in ten Latino and African-American voters support the sanctuary law, white non-Anglos are split.

There’s an obvious remedy to this divide: hold a statewide referendum allowing the entire California electorate to vote up or down on sanctuary policy. But let’s suppose the policy was repealed: as with Prop 187, there’d be a legal challenge that a Democratic governor likely would abandon at the first opportunity to do so.

In other words, tempers would flare. Californians would remain divided. The state wouldn’t heal.

In this edition of Eureka, we focus on immigration by coming at the topic from four directions, which includes the following:

Victor Davis Hanson, the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, looks at how illegal immigration has affected a stretch of rural Fresno County that his family of Scandinavian immigrants has called home for five successive generations.

Tim Kane, the JP Conte Fellow in Immigration Studies at the Hoover Institution, explains why immigration reform remains elusive in Washington, DC, no matter which party controls the federal government’s levers.

Rep. Ro Khanna, a first-term Democrat representing California’s 17th Congressional District and the son of Indian immigrants, discusses the balance of respect for American traditions while embracing one’s heritage.

Dan Morain, senior editor at CALmatters and a veteran of the Sacramento press corps, explains why immigration has stayed a part of the California conversation for a quarter of a century.

We hope you enjoy this latest installment of Eureka—and that it gets you thinking about where California stands and whether we’re moving in the right direction.