San Jose Mercury News
Monday, February 9, 1998
Unz Takes Blow from the Right
After months of fending off attacks from the political left, Ron Unz's campaign to rid the state of most bilingual education is now taking hits from the opposite end of the political spectrum.
On talk radio and in opinion pieces, some conservatives are re-evaluating their initial support for the Palo Alto millionaire's "English for the Children" initiative, saying it may actually expand the use of bilingual education, not eliminate it.
Others, including Republican state Sen. Richard Mountjoy of Monrovia, are worried that language in the June ballot measure will undercut provisions in Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot measure aimed at keeping illegal-immigrant children out of public schools. Mountjoy, an early backer of the initiative, has asked the Legislative Counsel's Office to investigate whether it conflicts with Proposition 187. A ruling is expected within a couple of weeks.
For anti-immigration conservatives, the problem is tucked away in the third paragraph of the Unz initiative. It would add a sentence to the Education Code declaring that California schools "have a moral obligation and a constitutional duty to provide all of California's children, regardless of their ethnicity or national origins, with the skills necessary to become productive members of our society."
By obligating the state to educate "all" children, the initiative appears to conflict with the part of Proposition 187 that prohibits the public education of any child who is not a citizen of the United States or is otherwise here illegally, Tarzana attorney Allan Favish said.
"This is not complicated. All means all," said Favish, who maintains a politically conservative Web site and has written opinion pieces about the Unz initiative. "I looked at that and said, `Boy, if this becomes law, this will overturn Prop. 187.' "
California voters passed Proposition 187 in 1994, intending to keep public education, health services and welfare benefits from undocumented immigrants.
But federal Judge Mariana Pfaelzer struck down most of the measure in November, ruling that it conflicts with a narrower ban on benefits for illegal immigrants enacted by Congress in 1996. Unlike Proposition 187, the federal law does not bar undocumented children from public elementary and secondary schools.
"Proposition 187 was declared unconstitutional," said Joe Jaramillo, a staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. "It's dead-letter. As far as the Unz initiative, the legal effect is nil."
Proposition 187 appeal
"I think 187 is legal, and I think eventually the 9th (U.S.) Circuit Court (of Appeals) and the Supreme Court will make it the law of the land . . . unless this Unz thing proceeds," Favish said.
San Francisco constitutional law attorney Joe Remcho agreed that the Unz initiative would take precedence if any conflict with Proposition 187 was established.
"The one that comes later would always supersede," said Remcho, who specializes in ballot initiatives.
Unz publicly opposed Proposition 187 when he ran for governor in 1994. That has fueled suspicions that he purposely planted an end run around Proposition 187 in his initiative.
Unz denies the charge. "The whole impact of this initiative on 187 was the furthest thing from my mind," said Unz, adding that he is unqualified to evaluate the supposed legal conflict. Some conservatives also are concerned that Unz's initiative creates a law mandating bilingual education where none now exists. Although the state Department of Education strongly encourages districts to use bilingual education strategies, it is not required by law.
"So now you have a law that says school districts must do it," Prince said. "There are going to be a large number of students who want bilingual education and get it."
Prince's concerns have been echoed on talk radio, particularly KSFO-AM (560) in San Francisco, where conservative host Geoff Metcalf recently called the Unz initiative "sleazy" and "duplicitous."
Unz flippantly dismissed the criticisms as "complete nonsense" attributable to "a few of these fringe people."
Changing the system
"There are a lot of bizarre theories out there," Unz said. "Politics has gotten a lot more interesting ever since the mentally ill began to be deinstitutionalized a few years ago."
Many conservative critics said they are still looking for a way to support Unz and are hoping the legislative counsel finds no conflict with Proposition 187.
"I think it's difficult to say no to Unz without an alternative," Prince said. "But I don't see this helping the situation right now. I see it hurting the situation."