Escalating the terms of the immigration debate, Gov. Pete Wilson contended in a new legal claim filed Thursday that illegal immigrants in California amount to an “invasion” the federal government is constitutionally obligated to repel.
Wilson, who was immediately criticized by immigrant advocates for stoking racial animosities, also upped the ante in his effort to wrest federal money for immigration costs from Washington, increasing his claim on behalf of the state to more than $10 billion.
“California simply can’t wait any longer,” Wilson said in a statement released by his office. “Our borders are a sieve that makes a mockery of our laws and cripples our ability to shape our own destiny.”
Wilson’s latest legal action--the third he has filed this year--added education expenses to his earlier claims, in which he sought reimbursement for the cost of providing emergency health care to about 300,000 illegal immigrants annually and jailing about 18,000 illegal immigrants convicted of felonies in California.
The governor is seeking $5.4 billion for the cost of educating illegal immigrant children in the state since 1991.
Wilson’s lawyers on Thursday combined the three lawsuits into one and added a new argument: that the presence of so many illegal immigrants here amounts to a foreign invasion of California.
“The massive and unlawful migration of foreign nationals . . . constitutes an invasion of the state of California against which the United States is obligated to protect California,” the lawsuit says.
The suit cites Article IV, Section 4, of the Constitution, which states:
“The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion.”
In its earlier lawsuits, the Wilson Administration had cited the Constitution’s guarantee of a republican form of government in arguing that the burden of serving illegal immigrants was so great that California, in effect, had been denied its sovereign right to govern its own affairs.
Several constitutional scholars told The Times earlier this year that such reasoning was almost certain to be rejected by the federal courts, which have ruled for more than 140 years that arguments over that section of the Constitution are best settled in the political system, not the courts.
USC’s Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor who is an expert on states’ rights issues, predicted Thursday that Wilson’s latest legal salvo would meet the same fate.
“An invasion was clearly meant to mean a military invasion of the United States,” Chemerinsky said. “There’s no reason whatsoever to believe that the framers ever envisioned that invasion might be taken to mean illegal immigrants coming into the United States.”
Others criticized the governor for using inflammatory arguments in an effort to aid his campaign for reelection.
Although some experts dispute the exact number of illegal immigrants in the state, critics note that even by Wilson’s reckoning there were at least 1.3 million when he took office in 1991. But they say the governor did not begin to focus on the problem until fellow Republican George Bush lost the presidency and was replaced by Democrat Bill Clinton.
“This is just histrionics,” said Charles Wheeler, director of the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles. “It’s unfortunate that the governor would continue his explosive rhetoric that only serves to feed the fires of prejudice and fear in this state.”
A spokesman for Wilson’s Democratic opponent, state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, attacked the governor for hypocrisy, saying his efforts as a U.S. senator to help farmers bring migrant laborers into the country and keep them here made Wilson the “field general for this illegal invading force.”
Aides to the governor said Wilson was well aware that his characterization of illegal immigrants as invaders could be “misinterpreted.” They said Wilson did not mean to imply that immigrants were coming with hostile intent or that foreign governments were sending them here.
But they said he chose to do it anyway because lawyers said the argument would bolster his lawsuit.
“We cannot be deterred from making the strongest case in court by others’ interpretations of the words,” said Leslie Goodman, Wilson’s communications director.
Goodman said Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, used the argument in a similar lawsuit against the federal government.
Wilson’s suit is scheduled for its first hearing in federal District Court in San Diego on Oct. 11. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department said the federal government’s lawyers had not received the latest claim and could not respond until they had read it.