Trump's Wilsonian Dilemma

06/23/2016 06:28 pm ET Updated Sep 06, 2017

Twenty-two years ago a reckless, anti-immigrant ballot initiative--energized and supported by Republican Governor and presidential aspirant Pete Wilson--passed in California and turned a once reliably red state bright blue.

Proposition 187, the so-called "Save our State" initiative, never went into effect but it did galvanize public opposition, pushed people to register to vote, and encouraged Hispanics to participate in the political process. It also effectively ended the presidential ambitions of Pete Wilson. Five years after passage, the initiative was declared unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court and withdrawn.

The initiative stated that undocumented persons could not receive support from state funded programs; physicians at public hospitals were mandated to check IDs before treatment; teachers in school were to verify citizenship of elementary school students. Both groups of professionals refused to comply and dared state officials to prosecute them.

Proposition 187--a sort of "last gasp" for people who refused to study reality-based demographic data or believe in past Supreme Court precedent--represented a major Republican blunder, but only in one state. In that state, California, Hispanics now outnumber whites. Twelve years prior to Prop. 187 the Supreme Court ruling, Plylor v. Doe, (1982) settled the issue of children in public school: All children in America must attend public school when school is in session without discrimination based on race, gender, religion, national origin--or citizenship status. Essentially, the Save our State initiative was dead the moment it passed and any legal scholar, or first year law student for that matter, understood this basic reality.

But Pete persisted, unconcerned with Supreme Court precedence or the cruelty of the initiative and now, Governor Wilson is a mere footnote in our political memories.

Fast forward 22 years to Donald Trump's (soon to be) nomination as the Republican standard bearer for the presidency in November, 2016. He advocates a national program of mass deportations of people who are living here with irregular immigration status, and Trump has animated his campaign by calling for construction of a 2,000 mile border wall between the United States and Mexico. Trump, essentially, is running a national Proposition 187 campaign.

Yet, as preposterous as these proposals seem, we can't blame Donald Trump for being Donald Trump; let's consider the arc of policies pursued by our politicians over the past few years--particularly politicians who identify with the Republican Party. Republicans in states like Arizona and Alabama have pursued draconian, anti-immigration policies in recent years, creating a climate of mistrust and meanness. Additionally, they've slashed public education budgets, sycophantically support the entire NRA agenda, while never once voting for an increase in the minimum wage.

Mr. Trump can't win the presidency on his nativist, deportation agenda and learning about the legacy of Pete Wilson would serve him well. But we have a long tradition of blaming victims in the USA: The gross income inequality, the brazenness of our captains of finance, the collapsing national infrastructure--none of this is the fault of our immigrant brothers and sisters. Trump, like Wilson and friends back in the mid-1990s, is targeting and planning to punish the victims of our nation's excesses via policies of exclusion and the related relentless, reckless pursuit of profit and greed.

Rather than talking about a wall which can't be built (we tried to build it during the G.W. Bush presidency) and deportation policies that are contrary to our national narrative, we need to return to a balanced immigration agenda in America. Our immigration policies have not been updated or reformed, at the national level in thirty years and it's time for our nation to act reasonably and enact comprehensive immigration reform. It's been done before, and it can be done again. The forthcoming Trump nomination, and certain November defeat, reminds us of another politician who planned to ride his anti-immigrant anger to Washington. Mr. Wilson didn't get there. Mr. Trump won't, either.