Exploring the Recent History of U.S. Immigration Backlashes | Full Report | Retro Report on PBS

Exploring the Recent History of U.S. Immigration Backlashes | Full Report | Retro Report on PBS

– Perhaps no issue
highlights the divisions of the Trump era more
than immigration. Whether it’s the fight over
building a border wall, policies that separate
migrant children from their parents, or the harsh rhetoric coming
from the President. – But while it might
seem new, that rhetoric contains echos of
another anti-immigration backlash from 25 years ago. – Our country is out of control. People are pouring across
the southern border. – Indiscriminate floods of
illegals across our borders. – Day one of my presidency,
they’re getting out. – Deport every illegal alien in the United
States immediately. (crowd chants “build that wall”) – I will build a security fence and we will seal the
border of this country. – I was badly criticized
for using the word invasion. It’s an invasion. – [Female Host] The
1990s were a time of building anger
over immigration. And it started in a place
that might surprise you. California. – [Reporter] Illegal
immigration is a serious problem in California. – [FH] Undocumented immigrants coming across the
border were concerning to Peter Nunez, a former federal prosecutor who
lived in San Diego. – Every night the
groups would gather on the Mexican side waiting
for the sun to go down. And they would gather by the
hundreds if not the thousands. And at a certain
point the groups just charged across the border. – [Reporter] It’s been
dubbed the Banzai Dash. Human waves overwhelm
border guards and race into California. – The number of border patrol
agents was totally inadequate. So it was totally
out of control. – [FH] California was in
the middle of a recession. And while the
downturn was primarily from the loss of
manufacturing jobs, immigrants quickly
got the blame. – [Reporter] Groups
worried and angry about the impact of rampant
immigration are multiplying. – People are losing
their jobs left and right and they felt this was
because of the influx of illegals coming
and taking their jobs. – [FH] Robert Kiley was
a political consultant. He and his wife started
working with grassroots citizens groups
who were angry that undocumented
immigrants were using taxpayer-funded social services. – When they went to the
hospital, to the emergency, they were full of people there that weren’t from this country. They were illegals, they were getting medical services free. Schools were being impacted,
cities were being impacted. – [FH] The Kileys helped
come up with Proposition 187. A ballot initiative
that would deny government benefits to
undocumented immigrants. Peter Nunez became
an early supporter. – The ideas was
let’s make California an unfriendly place for people
who were here illegally. With hope that no
more would come and that those that
were here would leave. – [Reporter] Their
children would be kicked out of public schools. Educators and
health care workers would be required
to report anyone they suspect of being illegal. – [FH] It was considered
an extreme idea by democrats and some
republicans who said it would unfairly
target immigrants for the state’s
economic trouble. – The immigrants
that were coming here were doing jobs that
nobody wanted to do. They were farm
workers, they were, people were janitors or maids. – [Reporter] Opponents labeled Proposition 187
immoral and racist. – Taking innocent
children and throwing them out on the streets, that
that somehow is gonna solve our illegal immigration
problem, is simply filaceous. – People thought
it wasn’t really gonna have much of a chance. But it turned out
it hit a nerve. – [Reporter] More than
600,000 Californians have signed petitions
calling for a halt to services illegal
residents receive. – And then it got picked
up by the politicians. – [FH] Republican
Governor Pete Wilson, who was in a tight
race for reelection, threw his campaign
behind Prop 187. – [Reporter] Governor Pete
Wilson asking the state with the highest unemployment
to give him a second term. Wilson says don’t blame him,
blame illegal immigrants. – [Narrator] The federal
government won’t stop them at the border, yet
requires us to pay millions to take care of them. – [FH] Wilson’s
campaign ad felt like a personal attack
to Kevin de Leon even though he was a citizen. His mother had
come to California illegally before becoming
a legal resident. – It was something that
was deeply personal because I witnessed
my mother, I witnessed my aunts who worked their
fingers to the bone. Who helped build this economy. – [Reporter] For
Hispanics, the largest immigrant group in the state, it had become a highly
emotional issue. – The politicians
were scapegoating, demonizing, looking
for someone to blame. That’s not the
America that I know. – [FH] De Leon didn’t have
much experience in politics, but he helped organize
anti-prop 187 marches. – And they all
brought Mexican flags. Boy that ticked off
a lot of people. That polarized the issue. Polarized it. Are you for it or against it? – The tensions just
hit a fever pitch. As a young Latino I
felt unease I think for the first time
in my own city. My own country, my own
state where I grew up. – Yes to 187! Time to get out! – Prop 187 was an
expression of unhappiness with a community
that was rapidly becoming less and less white. There was a kind
of anxiety, anger, rejection out there
in the country. – [FH] Proposition 187
and Pete Wilson won in a landslide, but the
courts ruled that only the federal government
can regulate immigration. And Prop 187 never
went into effect. – What happened almost
immediately after is a surge of
citizenship applications and of people saying
they were gonna vote. A million new registered voters who were Latino in California. – I thought for
the very first time perhaps we have
to run for office. Enough with the demonization,
enough with the scapegoating. We want to be
full-fledged Americans, we wanna have our voices heard. We wanna have a say. – [FH] Kevin de Leon
did run for office, and 20 years after Prop
187, he became the first Latino President of the State
Senate in more than a century. – My story should
not be the exception. My story should be the rule. – [FH] Before leaving
office in 2018, he and other Latino
politicians helped make California one
of the most liberal and immigrant friendly
states in the country. A change fueled by a long term demographic shift in the state. – It’s not just the
rise of the Latino vote that has turned
California so blue. From the mid-1990s up
until the early part of this decade,
there’s a mass exodus of white working class voters. They went to surrounding states. They were being
replaced by younger, poorer immigrant voters,
and that combined, that mix, is what
has made California the bluest state in the Union. – [FH] But Proposition 187 had
an impact beyond California. Even though it never
went into effect, it added fuel to an
immigration crackdown that spread across the
country in the mid-90s. – [Reporter] It was
Prop 187 that began the anti-immigration
fever, a fever which has now spread
to Washington. – Immigration went to
the top of the agenda. The Clinton Administration
started ratcheting up immigration enforcement
efforts because they were scared to death of what
Prop 187 symbolized. – [FH] Calls for
additional border barriers, expedited deportations,
and for local police to enforce immigration
law, started to grow. And it was a democrat who
signed those ideas into law. – That’s why our
administration has moved aggressively to secure
our borders more by hiring a record number
of new border guards. By deporting twice as many
criminal aliens as ever before. – It was a really
fundamental change in the way the federal
government goes about enforcing immigration policy. And created the basis
for the large scale removals that we’ve
experienced in this country. – We’ll build the wall, but
who’s gonna pay for the wall? – [Rally] Mexico! – Who? – [FH] Since the 2016 election, immigration has divided
much of the country. And there were echos
of Proposition 187. From the anger. – Go back to Mexico! – [FH] To the rhetoric. – They come over to the border. They have the baby
in the United States. We now take care of that baby. Social security,
Medicare, education. Give me a break. – It’s this mix of
economic insecurity combined with dramatic
changes in our demography. We’re seeing the
story replay itself. – [FH] Today the Trump
Administration is taking a harsher approach
to immigration. – [Reporter] President
Trump has decided to slash the US refugee
program almost in half. – [FH] New policies have
expanded the categories for immigrants targeted
for deportation. They’ve also made
it harder to apply for asylum and
enacted aggressive family detention
policies at the border. – [Reporter] Lawyers say
hundreds of migrant children were forced to
sleep on the floor for weeks without enough food. – [FH] But
California’s experience in the years since
Proposition 187 suggests that it’s
hard to predict what the current
crackdown will lead to. – They’re not gonna realize
what seeds were being planted. It’s never a simple
story of a melting pot, and it’s not a simple story
of they’re taking over. It’s this constant struggle
between feelings of being threatened and trying to
create a larger community. I think 187 was a
signpost on that. (dramatic atmosphere music)


  1. It's not legal immigration that's the problem, but gaming the system and the other illegal migration that is the problem

  2. Why would you tell false facts trump didn’t start family separation it’s been a thing for years because of a policy that ice can only hold children for 20 days which means the kid has to leave while the parent stays he tried to change it to where the kid and the parents can be held together until the court makes a decision on what should happen to them along with building new humane facilities for families then a federal judge denied it and Trump wasn’t the first president to try and change it

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