Anti-Undocumented Politics

Social Control or Economic Competition?

Presented at the Western Political Science Association,

San Francisco, March 16, 1996,

Tom Weston, Department of Philosophy

San Diego State University, San Diego, CA 92182

Abstract: There are at least two important factors in the explanation of the current upsurge of anti-undocumented opinion and policy proposals. One is the politics of popular allegiance and acceptance of government policy. Nationalism and anti-undocumented sentiment can serve as a means to divert resentment of government actions and lessen opposition to cuts in government services. The second is the conflict of domestic economic interests, particularly the effects of undocumented immigration on wages, public service costs, and availability of labor for economic development. This paper provides indirect evidence that the first factor played the larger role in the victory of California's Proposition 187 and in the outcome of key electoral races in 1994, and that it did so both by influencing popular beliefs, particularly about public services, and also by diverting attention from matters concerning job losses, recession, and fiscal crises.

How Proposition 187 Happened

It will come as no surprise to anyone who followed California politics during the 187 referendum that there is a connection between cuts in public services and the campaign against undocumented immigrants. This paper interprets the connection by arguing that the economic claims of the 187 proponents were mostly false, and that antagonism to the undocumented is a diversionary and confusion-promoting strategy, a strategy that plays a role analogous to that of racism and fear of crime in many recent campaigns (cf. Platt [1994]). This strategy is hardly a secret; it was gleefully announced by California Assemblyman Gil Fergeson (R-Newport Beach): "This is the hottest button going. As people hear about job losses and the State deficit, the backlash against illegal aliens grows." (Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1993; quoted in Calavita [1994], p. 64). In view of the fact that guest worker programs are well-known to produce undocumented immigrants, journalists have found hypocrisy and opportunism in Governor Wilson's continuing support for a guest worker program while winning election partly on the strength of his success in convincing voters to support Proposition 187 (San Diego Union-Tribune, Dec. 24, 1995). The same observation is made about other politicians such as Rep Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, who also advocates guest worker programs while making generous use of anti-undocumented rhetoric (San Diego Union-Tribune, Feb. 19, 1996). The results for Pete Wilson's campaign, however, were not public disapproval, but victory. Exit polls show that the two issues that made the difference were crime and undocumented immigrants, despite disapproval of his programs in other respects (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 9, 1994, A1).

Candidates' cynicism evident here is only one element in the explanation of the success of anti-undocumented politics. To get elected, politicians have to raise money, cultivate the press, and make a variety of alliances with other actors. These actors are not likely to support candidates who do not serve their interests as they understand them. Thus we need to ask who besides candidates benefits from blaming the undocumented, and how.

To understand the anti-undocumented "hot button," we also need to enquire about where the requisite public sentiments come from. Opinion polls have long shown that Americans favor a decrease in immigration. Those from the early 1980s show that undocumented immigration was considered a problem, but not an especially serious one. Surveys also found sympathy or hospitality toward particular immigrants, and considerable ambivalence in attitudes toward the undocumented (Harwood [1986]). Thus we need to consider how the views represented in the vote for 187 arose.

Origin of Antagonism Toward Immigrants:

Some writers on immigration treat antagonism to immigrants as a practically inevitable result of increased immigration. For example G. Vernez, an immigration specialist at RAND, recently argued that "California has changed sides in the immigration debate" because of changes "in the number and composition of immigrants, their concentration, and [changes in] the receiving environment." Vernez expresses concern that immigration has produced "growing ethnic diversity", so that "no one ethnic group is a majority group in many cities," and that "newly arrived immigrants or specified ethnic minorities are now benefiting from protection under civil rights legislation and judicial rulings that were initially intended to compensate and benefit native minorities"(Vernez [1994], p. 267,269).

Vernez explains current public antagonism toward immigrants as a natural consequence of their presence in a time of budget cuts:

In a context of diminishing revenues, continuing immigration is fueling intense debate that pits the needs for education, training, and other services for younger age groups--in which immigrants are currently disproportionately represented--against the needs of the growing elderly population, which is disproportionately native born, the natives' desire to control growth and preserve the environment against the need to create jobs for newcomers, and the rights and entitlements of the native born against the target benefits and entitlements of immigrants... Hence it is not surprising the this heightened competition for a diminishing level of services is leading to the development of intense feeling against continuing immigration. [emphasis added] (Vernez [1994], p. 271)

A principle theme of this analysis is that heightened competition for government services causes intense anti-immigrant feelings, apparently without any need to consider or explain why it should be widely believed that California's fiscal crisis is caused or significantly exacerbated by unauthorized immigration, nor to consider what other factors many contribute significantly to anti-immigrant sentiment. If the beliefs that constitute or lead to anti-immigrant attitudes were actually true, then Vernez' analysis would be plausible. More immigrants would cause more native experience of immigrants' activities, which might lead directly to a more accurate understanding of the economic role of immigrants, unmediated by false economic and political ideology. But if, as we shall show, the beliefs that appear to produce anti-undocumented sentiment are largely false, then Vernez's explanation is unlikely to hold water. Thus we need to review the causes of the diminishing level of social services that Vernez correctly sees as tied to anti-immigrant or anti-undocumented immigrant attitudes.

Causes of the Cuts in Services:

California's fiscal problems are due in part to the national economic stagnation of the past two decades. Both the rate of profit and the federal tax rate on profits have declined significantly since the early 1970s, as have the profits, real GNP growth rate, rate of capital accumulation, real productivity growth rate, real wages per output hour, etc (Gordon, Weiskopf, and Bowles [1994], Council of Economic Advisors [1995]).

As a response to these continuing economic failures, both the federal government and many states have instituted cuts in education and welfare. State cutbacks have taken place in states with many immigrants (California, Massachusetts) and those with few (Wisconsin, Michigan). As with a number of other states, California has had its own particular sources of economic decline and fiscal woe: the reduction of her defense and aerospace industries, Proposition 13 and other tax law changes, etc.

The operation of these national- and state-level economic forces and policies have been largely independent of immigration or changes in the immigrant population. Although California has a large foreign-born population (about 22%) and about 4.5% undocumented residents, state government revenue and spending on education and welfare are not far from the national situation. California's income per capita is above the national average, both for all races and for Asians and Hispanics in particular (U. S. Bureau of the Census [1993], Table 733). Poverty rates are below the national average for all races and for Hispanics, and at the national average for Asians (U. S. Bureau of the Census [1993], Table 741). About 12.5% of Californians are in poverty, approximately three times the State's undocumented population, not all of whom are in poverty. The number of whites and blacks in poverty in California is about 75% larger than the entire undocumented population (U. S. Bureau of the Census [1993], Tables 32, 740). California's per capita expenditures of state revenues on education and welfare are 4.5% above the national average, but its revenues per capita are 9% above (U. S. Bureau of the Census [1993], Table 479).

Although it is likely that consciousness of the facts about economic stagnation, low wages, low profits, low productivity growth, etc., played a role in the California campaigns of 1994, it was not often explicit in debates in the public arena, especially not in the 187 campaign. Instead most public discussion took for granted that the presence of undocumented immigrants was a serious problem, a problem to which 187 might or might not be a solution. Speeches and newspaper accounts emphasized competing estimates of the size of the undocumented population, the alleged "cost" of undocumented immigrants to state and local government, and the wisdom or fairness of various provisions of 187, and with lesser attention given to allegations that undocumented worker cause crime and to the question whether opposition to the undocumented is racist, etc. In order to evaluate competing explanations of anti-undocumented sentiment, however, it is essential to determine whether it is actually true that the undocumented have caused or significantly worsened California's fiscal problems or the economic welfare of individual citizens. The evidence about this is clear in this respect: most of the financial claims that were made by candidates were either demonstrably false or hard to know with precision and probably false. We give a brief review.

Welfare, and Education, and Health Care Costs:

Welfare costs for immigrants or undocumented immigrants have been an important item in the 187 controversy. Bean [1994] shows that although the percentage of immigrant households in poverty in California is greater than that of natives, their usage of public assistance is less (see Table 1). Studies of undocumented workers newly amnestied under the 1986 immigration law (IRCA) show that only a few percent of the California undocumented have ever used public assistance (California Health and Welfare Agency [1989]). Reasonable estimates of taxes collected from immigrants by all levels of government were about $70 billion in 1992, including about $7 billion from undocumented immigrants. This $70 billion exceeds the cost of all services for immigrants by about $25 billion (Passel [1994], Fix and Passel [1994b]).

Native and Immigrant Households (HHs) in Poverty in California, 1989


HHs In Poverty

HHs on Public Assistance

Native HHs



Immigrant HHs



Source: F. Bean, Poverty and Welfare Recipiency Among Immigrants in California, Tomas Rivera Center, Riverside, California, 1994

Table 1

On the other hand, even a very low-tech estimate of school costs vs. state and local taxes for undocumented workers show that nationally (and therefore probably also in California), undocumented workers are unlikely to pay enough state and local taxes to cover their children's education. A 1992 survey by the District of Columbia shows that the median state and local taxes in 51 large U.S. cities for a family four (with two school-age children) earning $25,000 was about $1970 (U. S. Bureau of the Census [1994], Table 480). Meisenheimer [1992] estimates the 1989 median weekly wage of recent immigrants with little or no English was $230 (54% that of natives), giving a median yearly income of at most $23,000 for a two-earner family working 50 weeks. This gives an estimate in the neighborhood of $25,000 for a two-earner family in 1992. Since the median school cost per child in those same 51 cities was $5,068 per year in 1991-2 (U. S. Department of Education [1994], Table 92), the cost of educating two children through 13 years of school is about $130,000 (U. S. Bureau of the Census [1994, Tables 480, 481). Unless a family's income (and taxes) were to increase substantially as they got older, it would take 65 years--considerably more than the parents' entire working life--to pay this cost. This assumes only two children, and that state and local taxes were applied only to education, with no cost to public hospital use, etc. In fact, less than 18% of state and local revenue is spent on primary and secondary education (U. S. Bureau of the Census [1994] Table 464). Although education expenditures per pupil in California's large cities are slightly higher than the median of the of the 51 cited above ($5286 for Los Angeles, $5218 for San Diego, $4986 for San Francisco, U. S. Department of Education [1994], Table 92), the above calculation is still qualitatively correct for California.

The most salient fact about this estimate is that it didn't use anything but income, family size, and facts about the tax structure. But 20.4% of U. S. married-couple families with at least one child under 18 had an income of $25,000 or less in 1992 ( U. S. Bureau of the Census [1992], Table 1). Thus the above analysis applies to them as well. Low income families do not usually pay enough state and local taxes to pay for their children's education. This is not a fact about immigrants, or undocumented immigrants in particular, it is fact about the tax system and the U. S. income distribution. But if this fact is to be the basis for indictment of undocumented immigrants, then it applies equally to a great many non-immigrants as well.

The low-tech calculation is confirmed by detailed studies of taxes and benefits in particular states. Espenshade and King [1994] used census data to estimate that in 1980, the average native-headed household in New Jersey used $1071 more in services than it paid in state and local taxes, and that for immigrant-headed households, the average was $120 larger. The difference is attributable primarily to variation in family size and ages of children.

It may seem a surprising result that families do not, on average, pay enough in taxes for the state and local services they use, even in a single state. Evidently the taxes to cover the remaining required revenues is collected principally from businesses, so are not attributed to families in Espenshade and King [1994]. Their estimates, however, impute to families who rent their residence a real property tax as portion of the rent, although this tax is actually collected from landlords. I don't suggest that this practice is unjustified; it is in fact followed by other researchers who estimate tax contributions of families (Chernick and Reschovsky [1992]). The interesting question that is suggested by this imputation procedure is the following: If the taxes paid by landlords are partly imputed to their tenants, why are not the taxes paid by businesses attributed (in part) to the workers who produce the product? This question is not at all irrelevant to questions of the status of immigrants or of undocumented immigrants in particular, since their contribution to the economy will be principally through their labor, a contribution recognized in a particular by business organizations that consistently lobby for increased immigration.

Despite technical difficulties and probable ideological debates, a rational estimate of the economic costs and benefits of undocumented immigrants is impossible if it takes no account of the effects of these immigrants on (a) the profits of business and (b) the creation of jobs for native and documented immigrants. This is so even if the costs and benefits to be estimated are solely those to and from state and local governments. Calculations which ignore these substantial sources of economic benefit and tax revenue will not only be incorrect, but must confront the fact that many native families don't "pay their way" by the chosen "taxes minus cost of services" criterion, which implies that not "paying your way" is no basis for differential treatment for undocumented immigrants.

The sinister logic of "paying your way" seems to have escaped much public notice during the 187 campaign. If not paying enough taxes to fund your kids' education and social services were actually allowed to become a criterion for access to services, then a great many native families in California would find their children kicked out schools and medical clinics. For policy makers bent on further service cuts, however, this conclusion is not the reduction to absurdity of anti-undocumented propaganda, it is merely the fine print in the Contract With America.

To complete our examination of the facts underlying the propaganda, however, we survey the available evidence on the actual role of undocumented workers in the California economy.

Undocumented Immigrants' Role in the California Economy:

In the 1980s and 1990s, undocumented workers have become a mainstay of several California industries, notably garment and agriculture. A study of Latin garment workers in Los Angeles in 1979 showed that 81% were undocumented (Gill and Long [1989]). Other data from the early 1980s indicate that 45% of California citrus workers and 30% of grape workers were undocumented (Taylor and Espenshade [1987]). Manning [1989] studied blue collar workers employed by 104 urban firms in California industries employing many foreign-born workers in the mid-1980s, including firms in horticulture, construction, food processing, electronic assembly, hotels, restaurants, and other manufacturing and service areas. He found 64% of interviewed employees to be undocumented, although many were able to find "primary market" jobs (more desirable jobs with paid benefits, a union, etc.) and earn better than poverty-level wages.

Although it is to be expected these numbers have been reduced by the IRCA amnesty program of the late 1980s, Cornelius [1990], who studied a larger group of 177 firms including those mentioned above, found that many undocumented workers continue to obtain work with false documents, and a number have been told by their employers to do so. In some of the studied industries, employers actively preferred Mexican labor, often undocumented, for the "strong work ethic" of Mexican workers. Cornelius quotes an employer who was representative of the dominate opinion: "If the Simpson-Rodino law [IRCA] is applied more rigorously, it will be difficult to find motivated workers." (Cornelius [1990], p. 80). Grower sources still estimate that 50% of California farmworkers are undocumented, while other estimates range downward to 25% (S. D. Union-Tribune, Feb. 18, 1996, A8).

Undocumented immigrants have played a particularly prominent role in the California garment industry. Because of overseas production, new technology, and imports of foreign goods, U. S. garment industry employment declined 28% from 1,115,000 in 1979 to 807,000 in 1992 (Franklin [1993]). In California, however, garment employment has substantially increased, from 107,000 in 1980 to 138,000 in 1991, although the California gain amounts to only 10% of the U. S. loss (California Employment Development Department [1992]). The reason for the shift to California, and to Los Angeles in particular, is the combination of the high concentration of recent immigrants and the very low level of trade union organization in the Los Angeles garment industry (Blumenberg and Ong [1994]). Gill and Long [1989] found that in 1979, undocumented garment workers earned 24% less than documented ones, since undocumented workers were assigned to lower-paying jobs.

The inference that should be drawn from these facts is that very little of the California garment industry would exist now, were it not for immigrant workers, many of whom are undocumented. The presence of the garment industry in California, instead of the Far East or Central America, provides jobs for non-immigrant workers in garment design and sales, and in the industries that provide machinery and raw materials for garment production. Similar conclusions apply to agriculture, and to specific firms and trades in many other industries. Employer interviews for one third of the firms studied in Cornelius [1990] yielded the opinion that their firm could not survive the departure of undocumented workers.

Interests of Native Workers and Undocumented Immigration

Before and during the 187 campaign, it was common to claim that immigrants lower wages or cause unemployment among U. S.-born workers. The results from a variety of studies show that downward pressure on native wages and employment is either non-existent or quite small. This is true for U. S.-born Hispanics and blacks as well as for whites, whether the immigrants are documented or not. The only significant exception to this pattern is that new immigrants compete with existing immigrants (Borjas [1991], pp. 87, 90, 92, and works cited there; Sorenson, et. al. [1992], pp. 92, 95; King, Lowell, and Bean [1992]; Portes and Bach [1985] pp. 66-68; Fix and Passel [1994a], Tables B-1, B-2, and B-4, and works cited there).

Since the 1990 census showed that immigrants had a total income of $ 285 billion, businesses that sell to immigrants require a huge number of jobs, many of which are not filled by immigrants. The garment industry is a more complex example where immigrants increase wages and job opportunities of native workers by keeping production in California that would otherwise be done abroad. Muller and Espenshade [1985] estimated that if there had been no immigration from Mexico to Los Angeles County between 1970 and 1980, 53,000 production jobs, 12,000 high paying non-production jobs, and 25,000 jobs in related industries would have been lost. These facts do not necessarily imply that unlimited immigration is a net benefit to native workers. They do show, however, that current levels of immigration, documented or not, are not harmful to the wages or employment opportunities of working families in the U. S. or in California.

Interests of Employers:

The interests, or at least the settled opinion of the interests of big business on immigration is clear. They want it. Their employer organizations (National Association of Manufacturers, Chamber of Commerce, etc) lobby for it, the business-oriented press (Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune, etc) consistently favors more liberal immigration. As a spokesman for a leading financial corporation (Kemper Financial Services) explained in 1988, U. S. business needs immigrant workers to expand the economy without raising wages:

[T]he U. S. labor force is not growing fast enough to sustain robust economic growth ... One solution is to let wages escalate but ... that would ignite inflation and squeeze corporate profits. A better option ... is to loosen immigration laws.... immigrant workers could support the economy's future growth (Business Week, June 13, 1988, p 22).

In recent years, the business-oriented press has opposed undocumented immigration--we touch on reasons for this below--but a number of California businesses make it perfectly clear that they think they benefit from the presence of undocumented immigrants, since they hire them, and have made and are still making money from their labor.

Summary of Costs and Benefits:

To summarize: Present levels of undocumented immigration are not harmful to California workers' wages or employment chances. Undocumented labor makes it possible for industries of great importance to the state and its revenues to remain and be profitable. Undocumented workers work hard, but often receive wages and benefits lower than native workers expect and insist on. Many employers make profits they could not otherwise make. Immigrants use less welfare than natives with the similar income, and undocumented families use much less. It follows that by a brutally utilitarian calculation, undocumented workers are a bargain. While I am not advocating that this brutal calculation replace a more humane assessment that goes beyond mere political economy, this is the battle ground chosen by the proponents of 187, and on that ground, they loose. Except that they didn't. They won. To see what has formed the attitudes that were expressed in the Proposition 187 vote, we review some of the research based on data from the 1980s.

Anti-Undocumented Sentiments

Espenshade and Calhoun [1993] analyzed the determinants of opposition to the undocumented, or at least the factors that predict it, using survey data from southern California in 1983. They found that among the principle predictors of the view that undocumented immigration is a "serious problem" were the age and ethnicity of the respondent, and respondents' views that undocumented immigrants cause crime, take jobs, or are a burden to tax payers. They also found that respondents who thought that the number of non-English-speaking persons would grow, or that such growth would cause ethnic conflict are more likely to believe that undocumented immigration is a serious problem. The authors interpret this as support for a "restrictive or ethnocultural version of American nationality," as opposed to a liberal or egalitarian concept of national identity (Espenshade and Calhoun [1993], p. 210).

Citrin, Reingold, Walters, and Green [1990] find a similar result in analyzing the November, 1986 "English Only" campaign in California from a February, 1988 Field poll. They distinguish an "anti-minority" (anti-Hispanic and -Asian) factor, from a conception of national identity tied to English. They found that respondents' ethnicity, having kids in school, "Americanism" (an index composed of believing in God, voting, using English, defending one's country when it is criticized, getting ahead on one's own, treating races equally), and an anti-minority factor were significant predictors, with antagonism to minorities giving smaller regression coefficients than "Americanism" (ibid., p. 550, 553, 555). A subsequent further analysis of this data showed that antagonism to Asians and Hispanics had a substantial correlation with "Americanism" and gave regression coefficients about the same size as for the anti-minority factor in analysis of opinion on the issues of (a) voting rights for non-English speakers, (b) affirmative action, and (c) bilingual education (Citrin, Reingold, and Green [1990]). In addition to showing the importance of beliefs that associate the undocumented with crime or higher social service costs, U. S. national identity as it involves English, and racial antagonism, in producing negative attitudes toward the undocumented, these studies also showed the relative unimportance of perceived economic competition or personal disadvantage.

The above conclusion about anti-undocumented sentiments have an enlightening overlap with research on the determinants of public opinion on government welfare programs. Working from 1986 National Election Survey data, Gilens [1995] found that the main determinant of welfare opposition among whites is racism toward blacks. Belief that blacks are to blame for the existing racial inequality, that civil rights leaders push too fast, etc., are far stronger determinants of anti-welfare sentiment than economic self-interest, commitment to individualism, or other factors. Working from 1987 National Election Survey data, Feldman and Zaller [1992] find that those who oppose "big government," who are concerned about budget deficits, who believe that society can not afford public services, or that people who are poor deserve it, are likely to oppose welfare programs. They conclude that support for welfare state policies derives from "sympathy and humanitarianism, not egalitarian principles" (ibid., p. 298). Indirectly, these results suggest that those who have racist attitudes, or who believe that the undocumented cause high spending and budget deficits, or whose demonized perception of the undocumented removes them from humanitarian sympathies, are more likely to oppose public service spending. Direct empirical studies of these issues do not appear to have been done.

Government and Press Promote Anti-Undocumented Attitudes

Given this analysis of what beliefs tend to result in anti-undocumented attitudes, we must explore some of the causes of the beliefs in question, in particular those on crime, public service costs, and American national identity.

On the question of crimes committed by the undocumented, a number claims and policy initiatives likely to increase antagonism to undocumented residents in California have been made by officials of national, California, and local governments. A selection of twelve of these statements and actions typical of those widely reported in southern California in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s are included in the Appendix. In San Diego County, in particular, a long series of pronouncements by public officials have asserted that the undocumented are disproportionately responsible for crime. Crime statistics and press reports of these incidents from August, 1986 to February, 1987 were studied in Wolf [1988]. Wolf found that press reports tended to view crime by undocumented as "a monolithic problem by a homogenous population," while the facts were quite different. Serious crimes occurred mainly in the immediate border region or in labor camps in the northern part of the County, and the victims were almost always undocumented immigrants. In the case of the immediate border region, the perpetrators were not immigrants but "rob-and-return" gangs based in Tijuana, Mexico. Arrest statistics were given by police agencies, not conviction figures. Undocumented immigrants, however, had a higher probability of arrest and of being held without bail. Wolf's review of press coverage concluded that only 2 of 27 stories attributed any positive effects to the presence of undocumented workers or questioned the need for "hard-line" enforcement measures.

The Appendix reports some of the claims of an "alien crime" crisis by police and INS officials, Congressmen, County Supervisors, Mayors, and other office holders. Their statements were reported in southern California newspapers, and many were also reported on television. The false or seriously misleading character of many of these claims is shown in Wolf [1988]. A number of these statements were subsequently retracted or modified after protests by immigrant advocate groups. Nevertheless, the frequency and persistence of assertions by public officials reported in the media is known to have substantial influence both in "setting the agenda" of perceived social concerns and in persuading members of the public to adopt specific beliefs (see Protess and McCombs [1991], Zaller [1992], Iyengar [1991])

Beyond the issue of crime, various governmental entities in southern California have also repeatedly attempted to prove that undocumented immigrants are causing higher taxes or unavailability of services to native residents. As our "low-tech" estimate above showed, the taxes minus services costs calculation will show some net cost to local governments for sufficiency low-income families, regardless of their immigration status, unless they are reimbursed by entities with greater taxing authority like the federal government. With this latter end in view, and often working from fragmentary data, county and city governments have written various reports estimating the fiscal impact of medical care and other social service expenses in San Diego (San Diego County Human Resources Agency [1975]; San Diego County Community Research Associates [1980]), Orange (Task Force on Medical Care for Illegal Aliens [1978]), and Los Angeles (Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors [1992]). More recently, federal agencies have published such reports, estimating large costs to California and to local jurisdictions for education, emergency medical care, and incarceration (Bornemeier [1994]). Controversy and criticism has often surrounded publication of these reports (Lewis [1979], Chap 15; California Assembly Select Committee on California-Mexico Affairs [1993]), but the claims of the reports are more widely circulated than the refutations.

The point is not that these reported figures are all false, although their fundamentally misleading character was described above. The predictable effect of the publicity these reports receive is setting an agenda, the agenda not of estimating, but of reducing spending--such as medical care for the indigent--that benefits the undocumented but is of significant benefit to others as well.

Public officials are certainly not alone in portraying the undocumented as responsible for crime and public service costs. Restrictionist and racist groups such are FAIR, which initiated Proposition 187, U. S. English, and the Ku Klux Klan have also played a significant role. It is worthy of note, however, that these groups often have the cooperation of officeholders and government officials. When FAIR sued the Census Bureau to prevent counting undocumented residents for purposes of reapportionment of Congressional districts, Rep. Claire Burgener and several other Congressmen joined the suit. Burgener chose that occasion to express his agreement with FAIR's view that "the nation's gains in energy conservation, environmental protection, and economic equality are being eroded by the flood of illegal aliens crossing our borders (San Diego Union, Feb. 17, 1980, C7). When K. K. K. leader David Duke came to San Diego County to start a Klan "border watch" in 1977, INS Agent-in-Charge Allen Clayton met privately with him and gave him a guided tour of the San Ysidro Port of Entry facilities, while another INS official stated that he welcomed any information from the Klan or others (San Diego Union, Oct. 17, 1977, B1). (See additional item in Appendix, 10.)

National Identity

Previous sections show the substantial role of public officials in promoting anti-undocumented beliefs and movements, continuing over a long period, and concerning crime and spending on services in particular. The situation is different in important respects with other predictors of anti-undocumented attitudes, particularly racism and "Americanism." Directly expounding racism is so provocative in the contemporary U. S. that politicians are likely to avoid this regardless of their personal views. Substitutes for race-bating can be employed, such as the famous Willie Horton ad campaign, and some argue that violent crime as a political issue is itself a surrogate for race (Platt [1994]). Indirection is required in the present climate if racist views are to be espoused by officeholders or the media.

The situation is quite different with the politics of American national identity, as long is that identity is not put on a racial basis. Espenshade and Calhoun [1993] found evidence that a "restrictive or ethnocultural" conception of national identity disposes one to anti-undocumented attitudes. Citrin, Reingold, and Walters, and Green [1990] found a national identity factor, which is distinct from but correlated with racial attitudes. These views are not incompatible. Both racism and national identity probably operate. If this is so, it helps to explain anti-undocumented attitudes among some U. S. Latinos. Over 20% of Latino voters supported Proposition 187 (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 10, 1994, B2) and other studies show opposition to the undocumented among Chicanos (De La Garza [1985], cited in Simon [1993]).

For the undocumented, however, both of the currently discussed conceptions of American national identity have the same effect: the undocumented immigrant is the Other of Americanism. For the racist, it is enough that the undocumented immigrant is Latino or Asian and doesn't speak English to produce opposition. For the logic of the other view, however, we need to turn again to statements by influential government officials, the members and staff of two Congressional commissions on immigration.

The principle provisions the 1986 IRCA that imposed employer sanctions for hiring undocumented workers grew (slowly and painfully) out of recommendations of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy Reform (SCIRP), published in March, 1981. The Commission held that the economic data on the harms or benefits of undocumented immigration was inconclusive. Its stated reasons for its anti-undocumented stance were entirely non-economic: the "most serious" reason cited was the tendency of breaking immigration laws to "breed disregard" for other U. S. laws, but the suffering of undocumented immigrants themselves is also cited (SCIRP [1981], pp. 41-2). According to SCIRP Staff Director Lawrence Fuchs, the Commission's aim in not giving extensive arguments for its recommendations was to avoid offending anyone who might end up supporting the coming legislation, "to take xenophobia, race and even economic conflict out of the debate" (Schuck [1992], p. 53). As a part of this strategy, Commission Chair Theodore Hesburgh proposed a formula that was widely quoted and assiduously followed to find votes in subsequent legislative jockeying: "closing the back door" (unauthorized immigration) in order to "open the front door" (further authorized immigration) (Schuck [1992], p. 81). What eventually emerged from Congress as the 1986 IRCA was a law that was advertised as a measure to control undocumented immigration, but which in fact greatly increased the number of authorized immigrants, and effect which was neither unexpected nor unintended (Calavita [1994]). The IRCA did not in fact do much to reduce unauthorized immigration, either. The undocumented immigrant, however, emerged as the opponent against which a variety of disparate interests could unite, an "indispensable enemy" (Saxton [1971]). Authorized immigration was further expanded in the 1990 law, a signal victory for business lobbyists, whose reasons for wanting more immigrants have already been mentioned.

The 1990 law provided for a successor to the SCIRP, the Commission on Immigration Reform. So far this Commission has recommended a national I. D. card and substantial limitation of authorized immigration, neither of which has yet been adopted. Lawrence Fuchs and former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, co-chairs of this Commission have, however, developed and publicized a conception of American national identity that broadens Hesburgh's "back door, front door" strategy into an ideal of Americanism. The key concept of this American national identity is that of a "civic culture" that includes consensus that the existing political institutions are legitimate and that the diverse interests in society are reconcilable (Fuchs [1990], p. 5). In an Op-Ed piece published in the New York Times on the eve of the Commission's second report, Jordan added the English language, more civics classes, and laws against hate crimes and discrimination to this concept of American civic culture. Quite logically, she combined her expositon of "civic culture" with a demand for more vigorous action against the undocumented to clarify "the distinctions between what is legal and beneficial and what is illegal and harmful" (New York Times, Sep. 11, 1995).

Thus the undocumented worker is condemned to be the Other of American national identity, whether that conception is racist or not. His (or her) "illegality" conflicts with a civic culture of respect for the government and its laws, his English isn't so good, and most important of all, demonizing him gets laws passed and politicians elected. In the process, millions of people become confused and misinformed about economic and political questions vital to their interests, and diverted from attending to these issues. Is it a mere coincidence that a few months after the passage of Proposition 187 barring the undocumented from the non-emergency use of public hospitals, Los Angeles County government closed public health clinics and hospital beds and laid off medical workers? Considering that lives are going to be lost as a result of these closures, the rather small size of the subsequent protests is notable.

Confusion and misinformation that result from propaganda against the undocumented are not accidental, not inevitable, and not the result merely of popular prejudice. Anti-undocumented attitudes have been assiduously promoted for decades by government officials and the mainstream press who know they have found a "hot button", and will not disappear without strong opposition.


Public Officials' Role in Blaming Undocumented Immigrants for Crime

Selected Incidents in or Concerning Southern California, 1986 - 1993

1. In October 1986, Harold Ezell, western regional commissioner of the INS, held a news conference in front of a "huddled mass" of 600 undocumented workers, the last of 3000 arrested in northern San Diego County in early October (end of the growing season). Ezell said the campaign of arrests followed complaints "linking illegal aliens to crime and harassment and intimidation of school children" (UPI, Oct. 17. 1986).

2. A 1987 report of an Encinitas City Council task force on "alien crime" was met my much criticism by civil rights groups. The report noted that much of the concern by homeowners arises from a trend among presumably undocumented farmworkers to wait on major streets, rather than go directly to the fields. The report noted that "... their presence at street sides and shopping malls is seen as incongruous by the relatively upscale Anglo majority in Encinitas." (L. A. Times, Feb. 19, 1988)

3. Rep. Ron Packard called for a task force on crime by undocumented immigrants, citing "10 to 15" letters of complaint per week, which he refused to release. He admitted that his use of the word "crisis" had not been well-chosen (L. A. Times, Feb. 19, 1988).

4. INS Special Agent A. J. DiBiase claimed that more than 20% of San Diego Hispanic gang members were undocumented. This statement gave rise to a protest by the Mexican Council-General (San Diego Union-Tribune, Jul 23, 1988).

5. Police rounded up 85 Latino men in a North County sweep, arresting 6, and holding one on a charge of raping a 15-year old girl. The charges were dropped later in the week. (L. A. Times, Jul. 2, 1988).

6. Rep. Ron Packard's "Immigration Task Force" financed a opinion survey among police in northern San Diego County. 90% agreed that "illegal aliens contribute substantially to crime" but most said most such crimes were minor and the undocumented were more apt to be victims than suspects . Packard organized his task force, co-chaired by the Mayor of San Marcos and a San Diego County Supervisor, after he was criticized for saying that alien crime is reaching crisis levels in North County (San Diego Union-Tribune, Aug. 2, 1988).

7. Police Chief Burgreen announced that a survey completed four years earlier had showed that about 12% of felony arrests in a one year period were undocumented immigrants, and that current figures were higher (S. D. Union-Tribune, Mar. 23, 1989). San Diego Police and San Diego County Sheriff's Office had earlier stopped issuing statistics of crimes allegedly involving undocumented immigrants after protests by civil rights groups (L. A. Times, Jun. 7, 1988)

8. State Sen. Wadie Deddah conducted a public hearing on a proposed ditch to run along the border, allegedly to prevent smuggling. U. S. government officials didn't show up, but the Mexican Council-General spoke in opposition. A representative of County Sheriff Duffy read a statement recommending that the U. S. military become more involved in patrolling the border. County Supervisor Bilbray said that the ditch affair had been blown out of proportion by "hypersensitive Mexicans," among others. (S. D. Union-Tribune, Mar. 23, 1989).

9. "Aliens who commit serious crimes are draining law enforcement resources, according to INS spokesmen Duke Austin in Washington, D. C. (St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 27, 1989).

10. Congressmen Duncan Hunter and Bill Lowery, and present and former INS officials were featured speakers at a conference in San Diego, sponsored by the "Stamp out Crime Council", a conference "intended to explore the connection between undocumented aliens and crime, environment, quality of life, schools and 'American institutions'." (San Diego Union-Tribune, Nov. 13, 1991).

11. Senator John Seymour made a campaign appearance at the border, proposing to spend $700 million to "battle crime by illegal immigrants" (L. A. Times, Aug. 4, 1992)

12. California Treasurer Kathleen Brown, running for Governor, called for federal officials to begin deporting undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes in the U. S. (San Francisco Chronicle, Jun. 26, 1993).


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