Capitol Alert

Who started California’s pro-immigrant movement? Democrats thank Republican Pete Wilson

Latino lawmakers in the California Legislature released a tongue-in-cheek video Friday thanking former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson for running on an anti-immigration platform 25 years ago and inadvertently sparking a political movement among Latinos.

“Gov. Wilson, 25 years ago this month, you spread fear about Latinos and immigrants in an attempt to secure a future for yourself and your party,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a member of the Legislative Latino Caucus, says in the video. “Instead, you ignited a movement.”

The video highlights Proposition 187, which sought to deny undocumented immigrants access to public education and health care. It passed in 1994 with Wilson’s backing as he ran for reelection but was mostly overturned in court.

Most of the 29 lawmakers in the Legislature’s Latino Caucus appear in the 3-minute video. They describe how the campaign for Proposition 187 targeted them and their families and blamed them for California’s economic problems.

“You scapegoated immigrants like my mom and dad in order to secure reelection,” said Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego.

They also described how the proposition prompted Latinos to organize and register to vote, ultimately resulting in a powerful group within the state Legislature.

“Because of Proposition 187, I went to law school and came here to Sacramento,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the San Diego Democrat who chairs the caucus.

The lawmakers credit the backlash to the measure for more recent pro-immigrant policies, including ones that secured farmworker rights and granted public health care access for undocumented young adults.

“Our work isn’t done,” Assemblywoman Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-Grand Terrace, said. “But we want to say thank you, Gov. Wilson.”

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
Support my work with a digital subscription