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An Alhambra High School Teacher Wants Prop 187 To Be Taught in Schools Across California

A wall of post-its by Alhambra High School teacher Jose Sanchez's students on how the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 transformed California politics when it passed 25 years ago. Sanchez wrote a curriculum that classrooms can use to teach Prop 187 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the law's passage. Photo courtesy of Jose Sanchez.


Alhambra , CA United States

On Nov. 8 1994 — 25 years ago to the day — California voters passed Proposition 187, which prohibited undocumented immigrants from access to healthcare, public education and other state services. Now Alhambra High School teacher Jose Sanchez has written a curriculum to teach Prop 187 in California classrooms.

The Los Angeles County Office of Education approached Sanchez at the beginning of the fall school year to write this curriculum, with significant support from California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who credited the protests around Prop 187 for his political involvement.

Sanchez put one together around the question, “How did Proposition 187 help transform California?” He taught the curriculum with two other teachers and narrowed down various versions before settling on the final lesson plan. He modeled the lesson after the Stanford History Education Group style of lesson that focuses on primary source analysis. The Alhambra Unified School District education committee reviewed the curriculum, checking for historical accuracies and other analysis.

The curriculum goes through the history of how the proposition passed, how the ballot issue led to student walkouts and other political engagement, and how it led to Latinos applying for citizenship and registering to vote. Prop 187 isn’t currently in California’s Social Science Standards, but Sanchez is hoping to connect with a California State Assembly member or senator to sponsor a bill that would do this. Right now, the curriculum is optional, and is meant to be taught in one-class period. L.A. County Superintendent Debra Duardo has shared the curriculum countywide, and Sanchez introduced it to Alhambra High School’s principal and faculty.

What especially stuck out to Sanchez is in his research concerns how Prop 187 transformed politics, turning California from a red state into a blue state, and motivated many of today’s Assembly members to get involved in politics. “Immigrants learned that if they did not have the right to vote, if they were not politically active, people who are anti-immigration would come after them,” Sanchez said.

In the 25 years since the passage of Prop. 187, over one million Latinos registered to vote, according to a report by the Latino Community Foundation. The report cited a 1995 Los Angeles Times article that mentioned a 500 percent increase in naturalization applications in Los Angeles County, resulting in an eight-month delay in processing times for those applications.

In the days after Prop 187 passed, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction against the state blocking enforcement of the measure. A week later, another federal judge issued a permanent injunction pending trial. In November 1997, the federal court judge who issued the permanent injunction ruled the law unconstitutional, saying it infringed on the federal government’s exclusive jurisdiction over immigration. The judge also held that the law was, in fact, a scheme to regulate immigration.

Then Republican Governor of California, Pete Wilson, appealed the decision. In July 1999, Gray Davis became governor and withdrew the appeal, effectively killing the law.

As a civics teacher at Alhambra High School for 10 years, Sanchez teaches his students how to get politically involved. Last year, his students authored a resolution calling for gun control that U.S. Rep Judy Chu introduced in Congress. This past spring, his students wrote a sanctuary city resolution, which the Alhambra City Council ultimately did not pass.

In addition to prohibiting undocumented immigrants from using public services, Prop 187 also proposed requiring various state and local agencies to report to the California and the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service on persons believed to be undocumented immigrants.

Many of Sanchez’s students are immigrants, or come from immigrant families. “I also think it’s especially important — A lot of our kids are immigrants, and they may not voice that, and they might feel ashamed and they might feel scared, that they know this history,” he said. “Anytime teachers teach lessons like this, they give [an indication] that they’re an ally in the classroom.”

Sanchez was in 8th grade when Prop 187 passed. He remembers going to school the day after the election, and seeing so many of his classmates missing. “I remember a lot of parents being fearful of sending their kids to school,” he said.

A component of the lesson plan involves students interviewing someone they know who remembers Prop 187 back in 1994. They heard stories similar to Sanchez’s, including finding the buses empty the day after the measure passed.

Sanchez’s parents, grandparents and other family members are immigrants. He remembers how scared they were when California voters passed Prop 187. “A lot of my family was genuinely scared about what the future held for them, whether they would get deported, whether their doctor, or someone at work, a teacher, or police officer that might pull them over — would eventually deport them.”

Another purpose of the curriculum is to examine what the political climate was like when this measure passed with almost 60 percent of the vote. Unemployment at the time was at 10 percent, and immigrants became the scapegoat for California’s economic woes.

Sanchez hopes his students can help write legislation to include Prop 187 in California’s educational standards. He believes that this is an important chapter in California history, since it transformed politics so thoroughly, and since anti-immigrant sentiment is resurgent with the presidency of Donald Trump.

He also believes that by learning about Prop 187, his students will think of civic engagement beyond voting. “Students, despite not being old enough to vote, can still be active in the community,” he said.

Additional reporting by Jon Thurber.

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