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It’s time to remove anti-immigrant language from California law
Demonstrators protest in the Mission against Proposition 187, circa 1994. Photo Vernardo Murphy/El Tecolote Archives
Demonstrators protest in the Mission against Proposition 187, circa 1994. Photo Vernardo Murphy/El Tecolote Archives

As we continue to endure a year of nonstop, anti-immigrant rhetoric in national politics, a California bill on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk—Assembly Bill 2532—offers our state the chance to further demonstrate that we are a place of inclusion, rather than exclusion. And there is reason to be optimistic. California is a different state, politically and in its policies, than it was 20 years ago.

One significant catalyst of this change, almost universally cited by pundits, was Proposition 187, the infamous 1994 anti-immigrant initiative. Reaction to the measure ignited the Latino community and many others who defended immigrants in our state. Unfortunately, Proposition 187 was hardly the only example of anti-immigrant lawmaking in California back then—when we were the Arizona of the mid-1990s. California passed its first legislation denying driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, a policy that was only recently reversed after years of struggle. Other efforts prevented public colleges and universities from granting lower tuition rates to undocumented immigrants—which was more swiftly rectified by state legislation in 2001.

Indeed, so much anti-immigrant legislation was introduced in the California Legislature in that era, with a significant number of bills enacted into law, that it is difficult to track down some of that lawmaking and identify the lingering impacts of the anti-immigrant legislation. In 1993, Senate Bill 733, signed by Governor Pete Wilson, who would be the leading proponent of the Proposition 187 one year later, is one of those forgotten legislative efforts from those infamous anti-immigrant days in California politics.

Even though the bill was sponsored by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an extremist anti-immigrant organization identified today as a nativist hate group, SB 733 passed with bipartisan support. The bill itself imposed a wholly unnecessary burden on nonprofit organizations and small businesses providing employment services such as training and job placement. It required—and still requires today—such providers to verify people’s immigration status and authorization to work in order to receive their services. It imposed this obligation even though federal law, since 1986, had already required every employer, and anyone who is paid for job referrals, to verify the right to work of those they employ or serve. In addition, SB 733 also requires those providing employment services to post a gratuitous notice informing the public that they will only serve those authorized to work.

SB 733 epitomizes the very worst of anti-immigrant lawmaking. It addressed a non-existent problem—never explaining why anyone who would be blocked under federal law from working would seek employment services. It imposed a costly burden on businesses and individuals that was duplicative of federal law in some instances and unnecessary in other instances. Finally, it was promoted by a nativist group with a broader agenda, such that the policy in the bill itself was not the priority and took a backseat to more symbolic aims.

Fortunately, today’s California legislature is moving to eliminate this remnant of another time.  We worked together this year on AB 2532, a common-sense bill that will repeal the entirety of SB 733, relieving businesses and nonprofit agencies from unnecessary costs, eliminating unnecessary government regulation, and removing this anti-immigrant stain on our state’s legal codes.

AB 2532 is heading to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. We urge the Governor to sign this bill because it sends the message that spiteful shots at immigrants have no place in California law.  We can and should continue our state’s steady separation from our anti-immigrant past of two decades ago.

Assemblymember David Chiu, a Democrat, represents the eastern half of San Francisco. Thomas A. Saenz is President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

Story by: David Chiu and Thomas A. Saenz