OPINION

Ali Noorani: Republicans would do well to heed the lessons of Proposition 187

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 20:  Voting for the first time, Maria Conception ponders her vote as she casts her ballot during the first day of early voting in Nevada at the East Las Vegas Community Center polling station October 20, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Early voting continues in the battleground state of Nevada until November 2 with election day on November 6.  (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 20: Voting for the first time, Maria Conception ponders her vote as she casts her ballot during the first day of early voting in Nevada at the East Las Vegas Community Center polling station October 20, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Early voting continues in the battleground state of Nevada until November 2 with election day on November 6. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)  (2012 Getty Images)

I remember how proud California Gov. Pete Wilson was when Proposition 187 passed. I remember he won because he scapegoated California’s immigrant population.  

And, I remember how we never forgot.  

These days, as the Republican Party’s now presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, advocates for the mass deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants, Republicans would do well to heed the lessons of Proposition 187.

It may be too late for Trump to change his tune, but it is not too late for Republican office-holders and candidates nationwide, at all levels of government, to heed the warnings of Proposition 187.

- Ali Noorani

Wilson has not expressed regret for his 1994 decision to support — and advocate for — Prop. 187. In fact, as recently as October of last year, Wilson said he would “absolutely” support the initiative again.

Thanks for the reminder, Gov.

The measure, which a federal court later ruled unconstitutional, would have created a state-level screening for citizenship and would have blocked immigrants who lacked authorization from services including non-emergency health care and public education.

Among its effects was to cement the alienation of Latinos and other immigrants toward Republicans — in California and elsewhere. In the 90s, California was a legitimate swing state. No one would call it that now: less than 28 percent of voters are registered Republican.

Not merely coincidentally, the state has 4.7 million registered voters who are new Americans — naturalized citizens or the voting-age, U.S.-born children of immigrants — according to 2012 data. That’s 31 percent of the electorate, a group that by itself outnumbers registered Republicans.

“I, as governor here, I would never do that in California,” then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said on The Tonight Show in 2010. He was speaking about Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070, whose unwelcoming parallels with Proposition 187 are clear. The pronouncement came from the only Republican governor elected in California since Wilson.

“I was absolutely opposed to Prop. 187," veteran GOP consultant Allan Hoffenblum told the Los Angeles Times in 2003, during Schwarzenegger’s campaign. “I said it was going to anger Latino voters and come back to bite Republicans, and that is exactly what it did.”

Demographic changes in other states may not rival those of California, yet. But they are no less real. “2016 electorate will be the most diverse in U.S. history,” a February Pew Research headline notes, pushed by strong increases among Hispanic eligible voters.

Swing states — think Florida, Nevada and Colorado — are among the places where this diverse electorate could have the greatest impact, as it did in 2012.

Speaking of 2012, GOP Chairman Reince Preibus’s “autopsy” following Governor Mitt Romney’s loss read:

"We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all."

Let’s be clear: The Donald Trump mass deportation position is even more extreme than Proposition 187. And, since more Republican primary voters in practically every primary state polled support a path to legal status for the undocumented than support deportation, his position is more extreme than the electorate he hopes to represent in the White House.

It may be too late for Trump to change his tune, but it is not too late for Republican office-holders and candidates nationwide, at all levels of government, to heed the warnings of Proposition 187.

Conservatives have an alternative: They can aggressively and loudly distance themselves from Trump and his rhetoric and instead embrace the opportunity and potential our changing demographics offer. Many have distanced themselves from Trump. Not coincidentally, many want a pragmatic, humane immigration process, starting with a respectful conversation.

In coming years and decades, a diversifying workforce’s ingenuity and productivity will help support an aging population. We need to ensure that our nation thrives by conducting a conversation, and eventually by passing laws, that help new Americans reach their fullest potential.

Will the 2016 presidential election put a large nail in the coffin of Republicans’ hope — and demographically urgent need — to court new American voters? Time will tell.

But Republicans ignore the lessons of Proposition 187 at their peril.

Ali Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum and author of “There Goes the Neighborhood” (Prometheus Books, April 2017).