Bilingual Ban Could Override Proposition 187

Allan J. Favish is an attorney in Tarzana

The June 1998 California ballot will contain a proposition that will significantly reduce the extent of bilingual education in California public schools. However, virtually unnoticed is that this “English for the Children” proposition also will override Proposition 187’s prohibition on public elementary and secondary school education for children who are illegally present in the United States.

The California Education Code section created by Proposition 187 states: “No public elementary or secondary school shall admit or permit the attendance of any child who is not a citizen of the United States, an alien lawfully admitted as a permanent resident or a person who is otherwise authorized under federal law to be present in the United States.”

But the “English for the Children” proposition will add a section to the education code to say: “Whereas the government and the public schools of California 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, and of these skills, literacy in the English language is among the most important.”


A subsection does not say “all of California’s children who are legally entitled to attend public elementary or secondary school,” but broadly says “all of California’s children,” which necessarily includes those who are here illegally.

The chief sponsor and author of “English for the Children” is Ron Unz. When he ran against Pete Wilson in the 1994 Republican gubernatorial primary, he opposed Proposition 187. While it is unclear whether the overriding of Proposition 187’s ban on public education for illegal aliens was deliberately intended by Unz, it is clear that the day after “English for the Children” passes, you can expect Proposition 187’s opponents to be in court arguing that its key provision has been overridden.

Many people support Proposition 187’s ban on publicly financed education for illegal immigrants and believe that eventually it will be upheld by the courts. We also support the significant reduction, if not the elimination of bilingual education and wish that Unz had written his initiative without overriding any part of Proposition 187. I will vote against “English for the Children” because it repeals the key portion of Proposition 187.

Corrective action is possible. As noted by the California Supreme Court in 1975 in White vs. Davis, when courts interpret a law enacted through the initiative process, the ballot pamphlet arguments for the initiative are part of the “legislative history” that guide their interpretation.

Therefore, the ballot pamphlet arguments for “English for the Children” should expressly say that the initiative is not intended to extend public education to illegal aliens and the intent is to leave that area of law undisturbed.

I hope Unz can make “English for the Children” something I can support.