Illegal Mom San Francisco Bay Guardian November 2, 1994 The Feminine Critique (regular column) Jean Tepperman
If Proposition 187 passes, Cecelia plans to send her 11-year-old son to live with relatives he doesn't know, in a country he doesn't remember. She's been telling her life story a lot recently, offering herself up as a poster child for the campaign against the anti-immigrant proposition. Even so, her eyes fill with tears when she talks about separating from her son.
But she's also proud of her determination to continue his education, even if California voters kick him out of school here. "It's important," she explains. "He's a good student, in honors classes."
Cecelia is the kind of mother teachers love: Nicely dressed, well spoken, well organized. She made sure her son and his two little sisters, ages five and six, were immunized on schedule, had annual checkups, went to Head Start. Now the little ones go to a neighborhood children's center after school, the oldest to a tutoring program.
Cecelia's also taking care of herself, studying English at San Francisco Community College, going faithfully every year for a mammogram---crucial for a woman whose mother and sister died of breast cancer.
She's doing everything right, with almost no resources---except for the few services Prop. 187 would take away.
Cecelia supports her family by cleaning houses but makes so little that her two girls, born in the United States, also receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children. She says she hates getting welfare. She tried job training, but couldn't get into any program without legal-resident status. She tried to legalize her status but was advised that the Immigration and Naturalization Service would hold it against her that she's receiving welfare.
First, of course, she tried marriage. What she got from her husband was a little off-and-on financial support and no help with child care or housework, as she worked steadily cleaning houses, taking only a few months off for the birth of each daughter.
He was also violent. At first, his rages mostly destroyed things---the TV, the VCR, whatever. Four years ago, when Cecelia took an overdose of some pills ("I still don't know what they were. I just wanted to die, to get away from him," she says), he beat her. That's when she finally left, going first to a shelter for battered women, then to low-cost housing the shelter arranged.
To avoid paying child support after they separated, Cecelia's husband quit the one good job he'd had since he came here. He now legalized his status under the amnesty program but refuses to apply for legal-immigrant for his son, much less for Cecelia, unless Cecelia goes back to him. That she won't do.
But Prop. 187 scares her---as it scares other women who, with their children, make up the majority of undocumented immigrants. In many families like Cecelia's the father is a legal resident, but even if he applies for legal-resident status for the rest of his family, the waiting list may be up to three years long.
If Prop. 187 passes, will that stop people from coming here? I ask Cecelia. No, she says. They come to work, as she and her husband did, because they can't make enough to live on at home. But more will leave their children at home, breaking up more families.
What should I tell people about Prop. 187? I ask. Cecelia answers right away: "Tell them to vote."
She's worried that many people who oppose Prop. 187 may be so disgusted with politics right now that they won't bother to vote, handing victory to the anti-immigrant movement. I don't care how despairing you are. Just go vote no on 187 anyway.
Prop. 187 is a product of Pete Wilson's Big Lie strategy, diverting people's anxiety about the economy to the bogus "immigrant problem," despite numerous studies showing that immigrants, legal and illegal, pay more in taxes than they receive in services. Wilson has people echoing his phony respect for "legal" immigrants, horror at the "illegal," as if this were a basic moral distinction. Actually the line between legal and illegal is pretty arbitrary and political---witness Ted Kennedy's "diversity" program that admits mostly the Irish.
Besides voting no on 187, you might convince someone else to vote no. Call your friends in Orange County. Explain that basic services like prenatal care and children's checkups cost taxpayers less than the damaged lives they prevent. Warn them that Prop. 187 would produce an uneducated underclass that would invade the suburbs and give them tuberculosis. Remind them that their grandfathers were undocumented immigrants. Ask them if they ever showed their green cards to an American Indian. I don't know. They're your friends. You think of something.
Otherwise you and I will both have to live in a state whose official policy is to deny basic services to some of its residents. Talk about despair.