From California, A Warning To Republicans On Anti-Immigration Rhetoric : It's All Politics In the 1990s, California passed a ballot measure to deny state services to people in the country illegally. It was overturned, but some say it's responsible for swinging the state heavily Democratic.
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From California, A Warning To Republicans On Anti-Immigration Rhetoric

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From California, A Warning To Republicans On Anti-Immigration Rhetoric

From California, A Warning To Republicans On Anti-Immigration Rhetoric

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Trump's rhetoric on immigration echoes an earlier political debate that unfolded in California. Back in the 1990s, a ballot measure viewed as strongly anti-immigrant was a key to the reelection of California's Republican governor Pete Wilson. But the state's Republican Party has been in free-fall ever since. NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Campaign commercials come and go. Just a few are never forgotten.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They keep coming - 2 million illegal immigrants in California.

JAFFE: Any Californian who was here in 1994 remembers the grainy black-and-white images of people dashing into traffic as they crossed the border from Mexico. And then Republican governor Pete Wilson speaks directly to camera.

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PETE WILSON: And I'm working to deny state services to illegal immigrants. Enough is enough.

JAFFE: Wilson backed Proposition 187, which denied public services, including health care and education, to undocumented immigrants. It won overwhelmingly, and Wilson did too. But 187 was thrown out by the courts, and over the past two decades, Republican registration in California has plummeted. It's now just 28 percent. David Damore, who teaches political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, traces the party's declined to the 187 campaign.

DAVID DAMORE: The moments when the Latino population is about ready to explode in California and have an impact on politics, the Republicans were pushing a very, very hostile agenda. The result is it's no longer a competitive state.

JAFFE: Damore is also a senior analyst for Latino Decisions, a research and polling organization. He co-authored a study called "The Prop 187 Effect." One of those effects - the increase in voter registration and turnout among California Latinos.

DAMORE: We also found in the research that folks who were not naturalized citizens - they increasingly became citizens so they could participate in political process.

JAFFE: Now all California statewide offices, from governor to insurance commissioner, are held by Democrats who also have overwhelming majorities in both houses of the State Legislature and in California's Congressional Delegation.

Nationally, the Republican Party is aware of the California example. Their own postmortem of the 2012 presidential election said if Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. And it called for comprehensive immigration reform. That was then. This is now.

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DONALD TRUMP: They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.

JAFFE: That is, of course, current GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump. The other Republican presidential hopefuls are increasingly talking about the issue of unauthorized immigration.

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JEB BUSH: We need to eliminate the sanctuary cities in this country. It is ridiculous and tragic.

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JAFFE: That's former Florida governor Jeb Bush denouncing cities that limit cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. Other GOP candidates like Trump support building a wall on the border with Mexico. And some have joined Trump in questioning the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship.

REED GALEN: Trump's entrance into the race made it so that they had to discuss it whether they wanted to or not.

JAFFE: That's Reed Galen. He's a Republican political consultant to who worked on the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and John McCain. He thinks it's possible that the current harsh rhetoric on immigration could alienate Latino voters around the country the way that proposition 187 alienated them in California back in the '90s.

GALEN: Latinos who, at the time, might have been with the Republicans on any number of issues - be it economy or social issues - now decided, well, if this is something you're going to be for, then you probably don't like me.

JAFFE: And that shifting attitude can now be seen on the national level too, says Latino Decisions analyst David Damore.

DAMORE: Remember, George Bush, in 2004, wins 39, 40 percent of the Latino vote.

JAFFE: He talked about immigration reform. But eight years later...

DAMORE: Mitt Romney is in the low 20s.

JAFFE: He said undocumented immigrants should self-deport.

DAMORE: So there's a big swing in a relatively short period of time there.

JAFFE: And Republican consultant Reed Galen doesn't like the trend.

GALEN: As a Republican who has to go win elections, I would like more people to like our candidates than less (laughter) as sort of a baseline.

JAFFE: But with Donald Trump leading in the polls, it's undeniable that the talk about undocumented immigrants has struck a chord with part of the Republican base, says Galen.

GALEN: Do I believe that it has the ability to derail the party - absolutely. Is it a long-term concern - absolutely.

JAFFE: But in the short term, it's hard to get candidates to think about anything but winning the nomination. Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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