History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Proposition 187

On November 9, 1994, the California Electorate passed Proposition 187, banning undocumented immigrants from public education, as well as other social services provided by the state. Proposition 187 was directed towards Latinos, specifically the influx of Latinos coming to California from Mexico. Thousands of illegal immigrants flee to California and in a measure to rid the state of these actions, the residing Governor Pete Wilson, endorsed Proposition 187.

When questioned, Governor Wilson avoided facing the ramifications that Latino students could face in regards to education. Latinos who lacked proper identification and proof of United States citizenship were to be withdrawn from public schools. In a television interview, Governor Wilson simply replied that the drastic measure of having to remove students from the classrooms would not occur due to the court suits that he anticipated to follow the passage of the initiative. It was Governor Wilson's belief that these suits would prevent the students from being robbed of an education. Even with an estimated three hundred thousand children's' education jeopardized, Proposition 187 was passed by a count of three to two.

Educational factors involved in Prop. 187 also entailed the consensus that a majority of the students who would be affected came to the United States with very little formal education. Advocates of Proposition 187 also indicated that these students do not bother to learn English, which was believed to be causing diversion in classroom settings.

This political strategy by Governor Pete Wilson, a Republican, was aimed at diminishing all major social services for illegal immigrants. The elimination of an enticing factor, that being America's educational system, was to help diminish the desire for Latinos to illegally immigrate. High school and middle school students began walking out of public schools throughout California in protest. These students recognized the ramifications of Proposition 187. This measure would make all Latinos suspect and deny education to all undocumented children. Latino students and the Latino community, along with educators and members of the Parent Teachers Association (PTA), organized to recognize the anti-humane nature of this proposition. This effort was to build unity and demonstrate the power of the newly united immigrant community. Upon its passage, Proposition 187 immediately was taken to the courts to determine its constitutionality. In terms of educational access, the Proposition has been deemed unconstitutional and does not apply to public school students in California. Equal access to education for every young person in the state of California stands as a result of such legal intervention.


Armbruster, Ralph, Kim Geron, and Edna Bonacich (1995). The Assault on California's Latino Immigrants: The Politics of Proposition 187. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 19 (4).

Prepared by Grady Stretz (UCLA)

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