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California Proposition 187, Illegal Aliens Ineligible for Public Benefits (1994)

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California Proposition 187 was on the November 8, 1994 general election ballot in California as an initiated state statute, where it was approved. However, it has never been enforced.[1]

The goal of Proposition 187 was to make illegal aliens ineligible for public benefits. It came in the middle of a deep recession in California and was popular partly because the fiscal estimate from the California Legislative Analyst's Office said that it would save the state about $200 million/year.[2]

Proposition 187's approval was the first time that any American state passed legislation related to immigration.[3]

The day after Proposition 187 was approved by the state's voters, several groups filed federal lawsuits against it, including the Mexican-American Legal Defense/Education Fund (MALDEF), the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the ACLU.

Three days after Proposition 187 was approved, on November 11, federal district court judge Matthew Byrne issued a temporary injunction against the state of California, forbidding the enforcement of Prop 187. Federal judge Marianna Pfaelzer then issued a permanent injunction, pending a trial. The state of California asked in 1997 for the case to be dismissed and the injunction dropped, on the grounds that federal immigration law had changed in the meantime. The federal court denied the request that the case be dismissed. The state of California never appealed that decision, so the permanent injunction stands, and the case has never proceeded to trial.[4]

Election results

Proposition 187
Approveda Yes 5,063,537 58.93%

Positions on

Arnold Schwarzenegger

In 1994, future governor Arnold Schwarzenegger supported Proposition 187. In 2006, he met with the editorial board of La Opinión, a Spanish-language newspaper, and said that his 1994 support was a mistake.[5]

Newt Gingrich

On September 25, 1996, Newt Gingrich gave a speech on the House floor in which he said:

"What is happening today in California is that 51,000 teachers are being used up by an unfunded Federal mandate. We are taking teachers, classrooms and computers away from legal immigrants in California and away from the children of Americans and we are transferring it to people from families that are here illegally.
We lock in everybody to make sure that nobody has any question. The child in school during this school year is grandfathered until they graduate from high school. But we say for the future to the world, do not come to America illegally and expect that you are going to have the taxpayers of America, the legal immigrants and those who are American citizens, pay for social services other than emergency Federal care. This Congress began in 1995 by saying we would not pass unfunded mandates. That is what this is. This is a $4.5 billion a year unfunded mandate on the children of America who have to share resources because the Federal Government has failed to do its job of stopping illegal immigration.
"Let me make a second point to my friends from Texas who have been speaking. Nothing in this bill requires the State of Texas to do anything. If the State of Texas wants to pay to educate illegal immigrants, that is the right of the State of Texas. But how can any Member walk on this floor, deny the citizens of California the right to implement proposition 187, without expecting California to come right back here and ask for $3 billion from the Federal Government annually to pay California for the cost of a Federal failure?"[6]

Text of measure


The ballot title was:

Illegal Aliens. Ineligibility for Public Services. Verification and Reporting. Initiative Statute.


  • Makes illegal aliens ineligible for public social services, public health care services (unless emergency under federal law), and public school education at elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels.
  • Requires various state and local agencies to report persons who are suspected illegal aliens to the California Attorney General and the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service. Mandates California Attorney General to transmit reports to Immigration and Naturalization Service and maintain records of such reports.
  • Makes it a felony to manufacture, distribute, sell or use false citizenship or residence documents.

Fiscal estimate

The fiscal estimate provided by the California Legislative Analyst's Office said:

  • Annual savings of roughly $200 million to the state and local governments (primarily counties), due to reduced costs for public social services, health care and higher education.
  • Annual administrative costs of tens of millions of dollars (potentially more than $100 million in the first year) to the state and local governments (primarily counties and public schools) to verify citizenship or legal status of students and parents and persons seeking health care and/or social services.
  • Places at possible risk billions of dollars annually in federal funding for state and local education, health and welfare programs due to conflicts between the measure's provisions and federal requirements.

See also

External links