Attorney General Eric Holder’s outburst last week demanding that the nation’s public schools remember their obligation to enroll illegal immigrants brought the Supreme Court’s Plyler v. Doe decision back into the spotlight. In 1982, the court ruled in a 5-4 vote that public schools must admit students regardless of their immigration status. In 2011, Holder’s Department of Justice issued guidelines that reinforced the Supreme Court’s decision.
Holder’s statement has not only precipitated a renewed journalistic interest in Plyler v. Doe, but also California’s Proposition 187, the successful 1994 ballot initiative that sought to limit benefits including public education, to illegal immigrants. Californians’ passed Prop 187 by a 59 percent margin.
The victory was short lived. Days after the measure passed, a federal district court judge held that it violated the Constitution and issued an injunction barring its implementation. After nearly five years of legal wrangling, in June 1999 Governor Gray Davis requested and was granted court mediation. Although Davis’ obligation should have been to represent California voters who approved Prop 187, he sided with the bill’s opponents that included the ACLU, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante, and State Assemblyman Antonio Villaraigosa. Mexico’s President Ernesto Zedillo traveled to Sacramento to encourage Davis. One month later, the parties – all of the same mind from the beginning – signed an agreement that killed Prop 187.
In the thousands of stories that have been written including this recent one about Holder’s remarks, reporters refer to Prop 187’s demise having been struck down or tossed out by the court. But that’s not what happened. Davis subverted California’s voters by siding with Prop 187’s detractors. Consequently, for the first time in the history of democratic government, a valid, state-certified election’s results were overturned without voter representation.
Enforcement advocates need to understand that the court didn’t “toss out” or “overturn” Prop 187. Instead, a rigged mediation with Davis joining the Hispanic lobby ended Prop 187 which, had it been allowed to stand, would have saved California taxpayers billions.