If the Republican Party’s pre-convention decision to keep immigration issues out of the spotlight and developments in Utah and Colorado -- where a xenophobic candidate was defeated and an anti-immigration initiative failed to qualify for the ballot, respectively -- are indicative of a sea-change in the nation’s “immigration wars,” the conservative California Republican Assembly, and Dr. Franklin L. Banker, a Carmichael, Calif., oncologist, apparently haven’t gotten the news.
The California Republican Assembly, a Monrovia-based, ultra right-wing grassroots GOP group headed by Mike Spence, is aiming to gather enough signatures to qualify another anti-immigrant initiative for the March 2006 state ballot. According to Copley News Service, the Save Our License initiative "is a narrowed version of the polarizing Proposition 187,” a 1994 ballot measure that was handily approved by voters by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin.
Proposition 187 was later invalidated by the state’s courts, which decided to allow children of illegal immigrants to attend school and receive medical care.
The new initiative would not ban services the courts have already exempted.
"I'm trying to protect the Constitution, trying to protect the great United States of America," Spence told the Pasadena Star-News. "Wave upon wave of immigration throughout history has had a way of integrating itself into American society. Now, we have created a process where that isn't happening. We're not having assimilation, they're not embracing American values."
Spence, who has been in the forefront of efforts to deny drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants, told the newspaper that "the will of the voters was betrayed in the deal that ended Proposition 187."
According to the CRA web site, the Save Our License Initiative consists of three main provisions: ”First, the government will not provide any benefits not mandated by federal law. Second, the government will defend this law against any and all legal challenges. Third, individual citizens will be granted the power to sue to compel compliance with the law.”
Dr. Franklin L. Banker is taking a different approach to the question of immigration. He is cleverly couching his proposal as a pro-environment, anti-population growth and pro-sexuality education measure -- with a number of anti-immigrant sections tucked into it. Dr. Banker’s magic number is 373,816 -- the number of qualified signatures he needs to collect by October 15, 2004 in order to qualify for the California ballot.
“Dr. Banker’s initiative comes on the heels of the Save Our State initiative -- Proposition 187 redux -- introduced in California by Paul Nachman, a leader of SUSPS,” Devin Burghart, the director of the Building Democracy Initiative of the Chicago-based Center for New Community and a veteran anti-immigration watcher, told me in a recent e-mail interview. “That initiative went nowhere; it wasn’t even able to garner enough support to get on the ballot. Now, it appears that they’re looking for new ways to package anti-immigrant legislation and make it more appealing to environmentalists as a constituency.”
The good doctor’s effort also appears to be stamped from the same mold as the recent failed “hostile takeover” of the Sierra Club by SUSPS activists and other anti-immigration organizations. “The proposed ballot language is remarkably similar to the way in which anti-immigrant activists pitched their candidates to Sierra Club voters,” said Burghart.
In late May, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley announced that proponents could begin collecting signatures to qualify the “Population Policy. Legislative Directive. Initiative Statute” for the ballot.
The initiative claims that “California is experiencing extreme population crisis that is economically and environmentally unsustainable” and requires the Governor and State Legislature “to develop comprehensive population policy that enhances quality of life and preserves the environment.” The initiative advocates expanding access to “family planning,” and encourages “small families and responsible sexual behavior” and an end to “illegal immigration.” The initiative also “prohibits driver’s licenses, reduced college tuition, or other benefits [be offered] to illegal immigrants” and “instructs California’s congressional delegation to sponsor federal legislation limiting the yearly number of legal immigrants to the United States to 300,000.”
Anti-immigration fever: Cooling down or heating up?
California’s anti-immigration proposals appear to be running against the tide of recent events: A hardline anti-immigration congressional candidate was soundly defeated in the Republican Party’s recent primary in Utah’s 3rd District; in Colorado, an anti-immigration ballot initiative aimed at changing the state’s constitution by denying the undocumented access to any state services failed to make the ballot.
“If there is any place in America where the anti-immigration message should receive a receptive hearing, it would seem to be Colorado. ... Yet every indication is that the closed-border mentality doesn't play well here politically,” Stephen Moore, the president of the right wing Club for Growth, recently wrote in The Weekly Standard.
In Arizona, Project Arizona Now, instigators of that state’s anti-immigration initiative -- which will be voted on in November -- finally managed to gather enough signatures to qualify its ballot initiative after paying a California consulting firm $400,000 to collect signatures. If Arizona's anti-immigrant initiative passes, however, it could prime the pump for California's anti-immigration campaigners.
"Of the two initiative campaigns now circulating petitions in California, the California Republican Assembly-sponsored effort stands a better chance of qualifying for the ballot -- and eventually passing -- even though it is actually a rehash of the one they initially floated to get on this November’s ballot in California but couldn’t get enough support for it,” Devin Burghart said.
“Given that this effort has the support of this politically powerful organization, it is much more likely to go somewhere than Dr. Banker’s measure,” he pointed out. “There is a significant and growing insurgency within the Republican Party that is coalescing around anti-immigrant politics. Should Bush lose the election, that insurgency is going to bust wide open. It is already surfacing in a number of Congressional races this year.”
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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