“In the western states, racial discrimination against Mexicans shares an almost equally long history, appearing for example in California’s 1855 ‘Greaser Act'” (Haney Lopez)

California 1855 ‘Greaser’ Act — [using a Texas-origin ethnic slur… -CJ]

It may be that those who draft or support such laws are unconscious racists in the sense that they operate under the influence of prevalent social prejudices but cannot admit even to themselves the racial antipathies that rule their fears and desires. Racial prejudice against immigrants is a long tradition in the United States, evident [145] certainly in the prerequisite cases. In the western states, racial discrimination against Mexicans shares an almost equally long history, appearing for example in California’s 1855 “Greaser Act,” an antiloitering law that applied to “all persons who are commonly known as ‘Greasers’ or the issue of Spanish and Indian blood . . . and who go armed and are not peaceable and quiet persons.”[65] Prejudice forms an established part of the contemporary social fabric, even as it stands in contradiction to society’s expressed disapproval of racial discrimination. Racial prejudice, though not consciously recognized as such, exists at a level that motivates and directs social hostility, giving it rhetorical and, more importantly, legal form.

The relative lack of intentional racial animus behind Proposition 187 and similar anti-immigrant legislation does not reduce the effect such laws have in maintaining and deepening racial hierarchies. […] Anti-immigrant laws, drawing on deep social beliefs in racial hierarchy, give effect to and entrench those same social beliefs.

The prevalence and daily material reinforcement of racist beliefs in our society ensure the continued legal construction of race in the form of ostensibly neutral but [146] actually discriminatory laws put forward by those who assure us, and are genuinely convinced of, their own good intentions.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 144-146.


  1. [65]Act of April 30, 1855, ch. 175, § 2, 1855, Cal. Stat. 217, excerpted in ROBERT F. HEIZER and ALAN J. ALMQUIST, THE OTHER CALIFORNIANS: PREJUDICE AND DISCRIMINATION UNDER SPAIN, MEXICO, AND THE UNITED STATES 151 (1971).

“The issue was not immigration, it was Mexicans…” – demography, fertility, “mongrelization” (Haney Lopez)

WBL p. 142ff

The racial animus behind Proposition 187 is painfully evident in the imagery and language used by the proponents of the measure. Consider the questions posed in rhetorical support of S.O.S. in the official state ballot pamphlet:

Should those ILLEGALLY here receive taxpayer subsidized education including college?

Should our children’s classrooms be over-crowded by those who are ILLEGALLY in our country?

Should our Senior Citizens be denied full service under Medi-Cal to subsidize the cost of ILLEGAL ALIENS?[56]

Even in the context of a ballot pamphlet, where one might expect carefully considered advocacy, the structure and language of these questions betrays the stark us-versus-them distinctions that mark racial divides, creating an unbridgeable gulf between “them,” the illegal aliens, and “us,” the taxpayers, parents, and senior citizens. Undocumented people, whether tourists who overstayed their visas or wage laborers who crossed the border for work, are cast as a single, homogenous, undeserving, uppercase [143] OTHER bent on victimizing the variegated but relatively defenseless and lowercase “we.”

Not surprisingly, the less-restrained public campaign for Proposition 187 echoed and amplified these overtones of racial bias. In the public campaign, the issue was not immigration, it was Mexicans. In television commercials linking his bid for reelection to support for S.O.S., California Governor Pete Wilson repeatedly ran prime-time images of people running in pandemonium through a Tijuana-San Diego border checkpoint, powerfully transforming the anti-immigrant initiative into an anti-Mexican campaign.[57] As Elizabeth Martínez writes, “Wilson has almost single-handedly made the word ‘immigrant’ mean Mexican or other Latino (and sometimes Asian). Who thinks of all the people coming from the former Soviet Union and other countries?”[58] Wilson is not alone in race-baiting through the language of immigration reform. Evidence of racial bias also abounds in the comments of others who support restrictionist immigration policies. One grass-roots organizer argues that with immigrants, “[i]t’s like animals. When there’s scarcity, they don’t breed. When there’s plenty, they breed.”[59] A founder of the prominent restrictionist lobby, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, asks: “Will the present majority peaceably hand over its political power to a group that is simply more fertile? . . . On the demographic point, perhaps this is the first instance in which those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down!”[60] A 1992 Republican presidential hopeful stated “that immigrants ‘mongrelize’ our culture and dilute our values.”[61] The divisive rhetoric of us and them, the repeated depictions of Mexicans rushing across the border, and the invective about breeding and mongrelization all slander the reality of immigration to this country in the hostile terms of racial inferiority. This language completely disregards the reality [144] Gerald López seeks to remind us of, that when it comes to immigration, “They are we.”[62]

In light of these xenophobic comments and the long history of nativism in the United States, it is difficult to conclude that anything but racism provides the primary force behind anti-immigrant measures such as Proposition 187. Nevertheless, it must be noted that the vast majority of those supporting such legislation insist that they are not driven by racism. Thus, the proponents of the S.O.S. initiative stress that race is irrelevant to their concerns, and that they are solely interested in curtailing the flow of undocumented migration. […]

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 141-143.
  1. [56]Illegal Aliens, Ineligibility for Public Services. Verification and Reporting. Initiative Statute, CALIFORNIA BALLOT PAMPHLET, GENERAL ELECTION, NOVEMBER 8, 1994, at 54.
  2. [57]Elizabeth Kadetsky, Bashing Illegals in California, THE NATION, Oct. 17, 1994, at 416, 421.
  3. [58]Elizabeth Martínez, Seeing More Than Black and White: Latinos, Racism, and Cultural Divides, Z MAGAZINE, May 1994, at 56, 58.
  4. [59]Amy Chance, Controls Defended as Economic, Not Racist, SACRAMENTO BEE, Jan. 24, 1993, at A10, quoted in Kevin Johnson, Los Olvidados: Images of the Immigrant, Political Power of Noncitizens, and Immigration Law and Enforcement, 1993 B.Y.U. L. REV. 1139, 1165 n.95.
  5. [60]Amy Chance, Illegal Aliens Increasingly Blamed for State’s Problems, SACRAMENTO BEE, Jan. 24, 1993, at A1 (quoting John Tanton), quoted in Johnson, supra, at 1165 n.95.
  6. [61]Bill Ong Hing, Beyond the Rhetoric of Assimilation and Cultural Pluralism: Addressing the Tension of Separatism and Conflict in an Immigration-Driven Multiracial Society, 81 CAL. L. REV. 863, 870 (1993) (quoting David Duke) (citation omitted).
  7. [62]Gerald López, Undocumented Mexican Migration: In Search of a Just Immigration Law and Policy, 28 UCLA L. REV. 615, 713 (1981).

“to deny birthright citizenship … exemplifies current efforts to write facially neutral laws with racially discriminatory effects” (Haney Lopez)

Immigration laws targeting presumptively Latinx immigrants serve as Haney Lopez’s chief example of facially neutral laws that nevertheless have a racially disparate impact. / WBL 141ff

The proposed constitutional amendment to repeal the [142] Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in order to deny birthright citizenship to children born in the United States to undocumented persons exemplifies current efforts to write facially neutral laws with racially discriminatory effects.[54] So does California’s Proposition 187, the “Save Our State” (S.O.S.) initiative, which makes undocumented persons and their children ineligible for public social services ranging from primary education to non-emergency doctor’s visits and prenatal care.[55] Approved in 1994 by a two-to-one margin but currently blocked by a series of court challenges, S.O.S. is being hailed by some national leaders as a model for the entire country. Its success dramatically confirms the role of unconscious racism in the legal construction of race.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 141ff.


  1. [54]H.R.J. Res. 129, 103d Cong., 1st Sess. (1993). See chapter 2.
  2. [55]Proposition 187: Text of Proposed Law, CALIFORNIA BALLOT PAMPHLET, GENERAL ELECTION, NOVEMBER 8, 1994, at 91.