Early polls have shown Silicon Valley businessman Ron Unz attracting broad support for his June ballot measure to dismantle the current system of bilingual education in California’s public schools.
But that support doesn’t include one vocal segment of California’s body politic: conservative anti-immigration activists.
Be it on talk radio, the Internet or in opinion pieces, Unz is hearing the thunder from the right.
While proponents of bilingual education organized the formal campaign against Unz’s self-titled “English for the Children” initiative, the more virulent opposition today is voiced by his conservative ideological opponents.
It’s coming from people who vehemently disagree with Unz’s favorable views on immigration and fear his initiative would undermine Proposition 187, if and when the 1994 anti-illegal immigration ballot measure is upheld on appeal. In November, a U.S. judge struck down most of the measure.
In addition, the conservative opponents say the Unz initiative’s mandate of an English-immersion method of instruction will not result in the elimination of all bilingual education programs.
For his part, Unz says a small percentage of the arguments made by his conservative critics might be legitimate, but he attributes the bulk of the criticism to the fact that he’s Ron Unz.
“I come from a pro-immigrant background and I think that is the thing that probably really annoys them,” said Unz, who unsuccessfully challenged Gov. Pete Wilson for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 1994 and later that year opposed Proposition 187.
In an Internet posting on Jan. 3, conservative San Francisco radio talk-show host Geoff Metcalf denounced Unz’s initiative as a “Troj-Unz horse trap.”
He wrote that the measure is “a direct end run around Proposition 187″ and “creates waivers that ensure (the) survival of bilingual education in ANY language.”
“Californians have been conned, stroked, finessed,” Metcalf wrote. “. . . Voters and politicians who apparently want English as an official language to be embraced, learned and used, flocked to sign the Unz initiative much the way they flocked to Proposition 187 and Proposition 209 (the 1996 anti-affirmative action measure). However, they were had.”
A few days later, Allan J. Favish, a Southern California attorney, warned in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times that Unz’s measure “will override” Proposition 187’s ban on public elementary and secondary school education for children “illegally present in the United States.”
According to Favish, the offending provision in the Unz measure states that California’s public schools “have a moral obligation and a constitutional duty to provide all of California’s children, regardless of their ethnicity or national origins” with schooling.
“Those who voted for Proposition 187 should know that they will be overturning a key portion of 187 if they vote for the Unz initiative,” he said in an interview.
Ron Prince, a Southern California anti-immigration activist and a key supporter of Proposition 187, called the Unz initiative “an out-and-out scam.”
“It does not end bilingual education. . . . All it is really doing is changing the name from bilingual education to sheltered English,” Prince said. “When you read the initiative itself (you) see that it does not end bilingual education. It creates all kinds of waivers. It creates new mechanisms.”
Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, took aim at a part of the measure that calls for spending $50 million a year for 10 years — $500 million — in adult English literacy instruction.
“There has got to be a better way to end bilingual education than through a half-billion-dollar buyout,” Stein said. “In the end, people want less immigration, and the Unz initiative doesn’t deal with the root causes.”
Unz countered that this criticism comes from “fringe people overly excited by ideas that most people view as implausible. About 90 percent of what they’re saying is complete nonsense.”
Unz said it’s true his measure would not eliminate all bilingual education instruction in state public schools.
“I’ve never claimed that it completely outlaws all bilingual education but . . . probably 95 percent of the bilingual education programs in California will disappear,” he said. “It will get rid of the overwhelming majority of bilingual education programs that don’t work.”
As for Favish’s arguments, Unz replied that “the text is the text” and that his backers in the Legislature have asked the legislative analyst for an opinion on whether Favish’s argument is valid.
Assemblyman Tom McClintock, R-Simi Valley, a strong backer of the Unz measure said:
“Their argument entirely revolves around some judge misapplying the law (the Unz initiative) to undermine Proposition 187. A common-sense reading of it is that the Unz initiative has no bearing on 187. I view it as being slightly legally paranoid.”
GOP consultant Sal Russo said voters have some frustration with the lack of control at the border. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to opposition to the initiative, Russo said, adding: “I don’t think this strong anti-immigration rhetoric moves many people.”