Immigration and language are once again stealing center stage in California politics. The state, which is home to the largest Hispanic population in the country, is also the birthplace of national movements to make English the official language, to eliminate bilingual education and to cut off benefits to illegal immigrants. Now, Arnold Schwarzenegger finds himself in the midst of a brewing controversy about his positions on both language and immigration, which could turn into key issues in the campaign for governor.
I met Schwarzenegger in the late 1980s, when I was president of U.S. English, a public policy advocacy group that supports a constitutional amendment to make English the official language of government in the United States. Like millions of other Americans, Schwarzenegger had responded to a fund-raising solicitation from U.S. English, and my predecessor had invited him to join an honorary board of advisors along with such other luminaries as Walter Cronkite and Alistair Cook. In 1988, Schwarzenegger attended an event in Los Angeles to meet U.S. English members and donors. I found him bright, charming and very committed to the proposition that English is the key to success for immigrants who come to the United States, a common-sense view that most Americans share.
Democrats in California now want to use Schwarzenegger's association with U.S. English and his support for Proposition 187, which would have denied welfare and schooling to illegal immigrants, as proof that he is anti-Hispanic. Unlike Schwarzenegger, I am no fan of "Prop. 187" (as it became known). I spoke out against it at the time and agreed with the opinion of a federal court that declared the measure unconstitutional.
Nonetheless, I don't think that supporting Prop. 187 means you're necessarily anti-Hispanic or even anti-immigrant. Some 59 percent of Californians voted for the initiative out of frustration that illegal aliens were taking advantage of the welfare system and diluting resources that should go to legal residents of the state. I doubt many of those who voted for the initiative, including Schwarzenegger, understood that one of the provisions -- denying public education to the children of illegal aliens -- was blatantly unconstitutional given an earlier Supreme Court decision (Plyler v. Doe) on the same issue involving a Texas statute.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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