California, being a border state, is in the forefront of a battlefield on immigration reform where political corpses are buried. Just ask Pete Wilson, a former Republican governor exiled to oblivion, who turned the state into a Democratic stronghold for his 1994 support of anti-illegal-immigrant blowback in Proposition 187.
After an immediate injunction, the meat and potatoes of Prop.187 was struck down as unconstitutional two years later that would have denied illegal immigrants social service, health care and education benefits.
Come 2010, the two major Republican candidates for governor have taken up the immigration reform issue as a major plank in their platforms. Their message is essentially the same as Wilson's but tweaked to the times and a rising tide of public support casting aspersions on illegal immigrants sucking the public treasury trough dry at a time of high state unemployment and economic tailspin.
It comes at a time President Obama is reluctantly sending signals to fulfill a campaign pledge to Latinos he wants to tackle the issue. Democrat Sen. Charles Shumer of New York and Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina were close on an immigration reform package until it was politically detonated by an IED in the form of a Democratic victory for overhauling the health care system.
In California, the Republican hopefuls are Meg Whitman, former president and executive officer of EBay, and Steve Poizner, California's insurance commissioner. Both stated their immigration positions in op-ed columns in today's editions of the Los Angeles Times.
Whitman said she opposes amnesty, wants e-verification for employers to hire only legal immigrants and seeks state laws to prohibit charities and cities such as San Francisco for harboring illegal immigrants.She also wants Congress to pay states for incarcerating illegal immigrants. She opposes cutting off education funds for children of illegal immigrants for the "sins of their parents" and insists English be required as part of the curriculum.
Her op-ed message:
Taken together, these steps would make a significant difference in reducing the burdens of illegal immigration without casting unneeded and discourteous aspersions on Latino American citizens and driving them away from the Republican Party.
Poizner minces no words:
With the state budget in tatters, millions of residents out of work and a state prison system strained by massive overcrowding, California simply cannot continue to ignore the strain that illegal immigration puts on our budget and economy. Illegal aliens cost taxpayers in our state billions of dollars each year. As economist Philip J. Romero concluded in a 2007 study, "illegal immigrants impose a 'tax' on legal California residents in the tens of billions of dollars."
Poizner stops short of advocating elimination of all taxpayer benefits to illegal immigrants as offered in Prop. 187 but wants severe cuts and policy changes that now "reward illegal aliens and act like magnets, drawing them to and keeping them in our cities and communities."
He opposes amnesty, wants to revoke business licenses for employers who hire illegal immigrants and seek legislation banning those who offer sanctuary for the undocumented workers.
The Republican winner in the June primary will face former (1975-1983) Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in November. Filing at the last minute, Brown has yet to update his position on immigration reform.
The Times, meanwhile, editoralized in favor of the politically unpopular comprehensive immigration reform but challenged its 100,000 supporters who recently marched on Washington to concentrate on grass-roots support for their cause to explain the positive effects will have on their lives, labor, economy and communities.
As an observer of California politics for more than a half century, I suspect the platforms of the two Republicans on immigration reform will be a wash and won't decide the outcome in the June Primary. But it remains a hot-button issue to California voters prone to scapegoating illegal Mexican immigrants contributing to the dismal economic conditions in the state. The Republican winner could use it as a major plank against Brown who is a proven dodger of bullets in the political theater. After opposing Proposition 13, which put the brakes on skyrocketing property taxes, Brown flip flopped and supported it just days before the election when polls indicated the 1976 measure would pass. Either way, immigration reform is a divisive issue in a state with a Latino population around 30%.