The Mises Institute monthly, free with membership
Volume 13, Number 1
Victory in California
The two-to-one vote in favor of California's Prop. 187 is a
milestone in the battle against the
welfare state. It is a victory that will help reclaim individual
liberty against centralized power.
Out-spent, smeared, and attacked by both left and right,
grassroots activists put Prop. 187 over
the top. The story of their triumph is an object lesson in how
exploited American taxpayers can
take back the liberty and property the ruling political class has
systematically stolen from them
for more than a century.
The opinion-making elites were in a state of virtual hysteria
in the months before election day.
Fearful of the burgeoning nationwide rebellion against government
that all the polls foretold,
they were especially terrified that Californians might pass the
What exactly did the referendum propose? It brought an end to
all government subsidies to
illegal aliens in California, including welfare in the form of
public education and health care,
except in cases of emergencies. That's it. It was a chance,
perhaps for the first time this century,
for the people of a state to vote up or down on whether to keep
or scrap a welfare program in its
Let's be clear: Prop. 187 did not attack immigration.
Immigration policy, however flawed, is set
in Washington and remains unchanged. It did not even crack down
on illegal immigration: the
initiative said nothing about deporting or arresting illegals who
come to live and work in the
private sector. Illegals can attend any private school that would
take them, or educate their
children at home, as more and more citizens are doing anyway.
The sole focus of Prop. 187 was forbidding non-citizens from
looting the citizens of California.
Even people who favor more immigration should have rallied behind
187; it would insure that
people who come here intend to work. Even people who champion
illegal immigration could
have favored Prop. 187; it insured that illegals would not be
leaching off the citizenry.
As documented by George Borjas, the welfare participation rate
of immigrants has doubled since
1970. In California, the costs in tax dollars approached the
stratosphere. Illegals comprised 7% of
the state's total student population, and cost $2 billion per
year in education. California would
have to build a new 600-student school every day for five years
just to keep up with the illegal
California's health care costs for illegals run $1 billion per
year. Welfare to single mothers costs
$540 million per year. In Los Angeles alone, the costs of single
mother subsidies was scheduled
to reach $1 billion by the end of the decade.
Even a moderate Republican like Pete Wilson knew something had
to be done. He tried to end
this policy at the state level, but ran up against the central
government's objections. In violation
of California's rights, the feds were forcing state taxpayers to
pay up whether they liked it or not.
Gov. Wilson even took out full-page ads in the Washington
Post asking the federal government
to give the state a break, but to no avail. It was then that
fed-up citizens took matters into their
It is a measure of the decline of our official political
culture that Prop. 187 would even have to be
debated--or, for that matter, would have to be brought up at all.
In fact, the biggest shock, to
people who heard about Prop. 187 for the first time, was to
discover that illegals could become
welfare bums with the full backing of the law.
When initiative proponents gathered enough signatures to get
Prop. 187 on the ballot, the
establishment was horrified. For here was a popular proposal that
not only rolled back the
welfare state, but it also represented a chance for voters to
clarify the purpose of government,
which is not to redistribute citizens' wealth to non-citizens.
The usual suspects shifted into high gear, including
government employees, teacher unions, labor
unions, big business, civil rights lobbies, "public-interest" law
firms, doctors, government
hospital employees, big universities, and establishment
politicians. Most of them, of course, had
something to gain from expansion of the welfare state.
First, they trained all their guns on the woefully
underfunded, politically inexperienced grassroots
activists in the Yes on 187 committee. They were called every
named in the book, as the smear
brigade went into overdrive. This well-funded opposition even ran
radio ads claiming that 187
was backed by "white supremacists."
Reporters were insane with anger, dropping all pretenses at
journalistic "objectivity." And every
major editorial page in the state denounced the initiative. So
did the Wall Street Journal, the New
York Times, and the Washington Post.
Then came the scare campaign. Every sort of horror, from
epidemics of tuberculosis to outbreaks
of crime and organized rioting, were trotted out as the
inevitable consequence of the initiative's
passage. Illegals themselves threatened the end of civil society.
In the end, however, none of it
worked, and California's voters put a stop to the most
objectionable form of welfarism
Once passed, a federal judge in Los Angeles used the
tyrannical power of his office to override
the verdict of California's voters. If Prop. 187 is eventually
declared "unconstitutional," it will tell
us what's wrong with judicial tyranny, not the initiative. It
would also signal an agenda for the
But it wasn't just the left and the establishment that
mobilized against Proposition 187. Some
intellectuals, politicians, and thinktanks of the respectable
right launched a frantic campaign as
well. Canadian commentator David Frum and Washington neocon
William Kristol joined the
attacks. And one week before the election, Cesar V. Conda of the
Alexis de Tocqueville
Institution gathered signers for a statement opposing Prop. 187.
"In our view," the statement said,
missing the point entirely, the initiative will become "a hostile
crusade against all immigrants."
He gathered signers from most of the big thinktanks, including
the Heritage Foundation, the
Reason Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute,
and the Competitive Enterprise
Institute. The media reported that these groups had thrown their
institutional weight into
defeating the measure.
The antics of Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett made the Tocqueville
Institution statement appear
moderate, however. To media cheers, they echoed the message of
their liberal allies. Put simply,
they said Prop. 187 is racist. "Does anyone seriously doubt that
Latino children named Rodriguez
would be more likely to appear to be illegal than Anglo children
named, say, Jones?"
To begin with, according to the text of Prop. 187, all
students signing up for tax-funded
education will be asked to provide proof of citizenship, whether
their name is Rodriguez, or
Kemp, or Bennett. And since Kemp and Bennett assert that asking
schoolchildren to provide
proof of citizenship smacks of "totalitarianism," then why isn't
asking them for proof of
residence, routine medical records, and even their names--normal
procedure in all schools, both
public and private--a violation of their "civil liberties"?
To argue that putting restrictions on welfare provision is a
"government intrusion" is like saying
people on Social Security shouldn't have to prove their age.
Other conservative opponents claimed that Prop. 187 would lead
to a "national identity card."
Again: the initiative merely said that those who choose to go on
welfare in one form or another in
the state of California must provide proof that they are
citizens. There is nothing ominous about
providing proof of citizenship. And if this discourages people
from going on welfare, that's the
The Washington and New York conservatives could have remained
neutral, which itself would
have been suspect. Instead, they attempted to defeat a measure
ending welfare. In effect, they
came out for perpetually increasing spending for non-citizens. In
effect, this is the same as
lobbying for confiscatory taxation and redistribution to
benefit people who are here illegally.
But how, you ask, could any ostensible conservative spin out
such a rationale for continuing
subsidies, especially to non-citizens? Easy: they don't tell the
truth. "We want to be clear and
emphatic on this point," said Bennett and Kemp, "we are not in
favor of illegal immigrants
receiving state or federal welfare benefits."
But a memo dated June 22, 1988, and signed by Kemp during his
tenure as HUD Secretary, says
the opposite. In response to concerns raised by citizens of Costa
Mesa, California, over a
HUD-funded hiring hall that catered to illegals, Kemp wrote:
"HUD's community development
programs do no require citizenship or lawful resident status for
eligibility. It is the presumption
that the programs benefit both citizens and documented and
undocumented aliens." We are
furthermore told, in Kemp's best hectoring style, that
distinguishing among recipients "on the
basis of alienage would be discriminatory."
Kemp and Bennett also asserted that "under current law,
illegal immigrants are not eligible to
receive welfare benefits." According to the Congressional
Research Service, however, illegal
residents are currently eligible for more than 100 federal
programs, including government loans
to business. But these are "not welfare," according to the
tortured logic of the Bennett-Kemp
memo, "provided such services do not include cash or other income
transfers to individual
In other words, all government expenditures and subsidies,
with the sole exception of direct cash
payments--including public housing, medical services, food
stamps, and government schools--are
not only justified, but should be made available to anyone who
can get past the Border Patrol.
Kemp and Bennett are associated with a group called "Empower
America," which, before
coming out in support of forced government welfare for illegal
aliens, circulated an article calling
for an end to cash subsidies for single mothers. But this
suggestion was apparently an abstraction;
when the time came to pull the plug, they betrayed their
middle-class California organizers,
people who have full-time jobs working much harder than
Besides this glorious victory against the welfare state, the
Prop. 187 battle clarified the dividing
line between Washington and New York conservatives, who flinched
when it mattered, and the
real right at the grassroots, which is anti-welfare,
anti-regulation, anti-central state, and free
market to the core. If the spirit of Prop. 187 is to thrive and
grow, it will have to depend on the
tenacity of independent minds and voices.
Justin Raimondo is author of Reclaiming the American Right