The Proposition

In Houston, illegal immigrants wait to see what hand California's Proposition 187 has dealt them

As voters, courts and organizations ranging from nonprofit groups to the World Boxing Council fiercely debate Proposition 187's future, the effect on many Houston Latinos -- documented or not -- is a heightened anxiety that was never wholly submerged to begin with. After school, in the parking lot of Roy T. Benavidez, a well-dressed young Mexican couple pause while herding their three school-age children into the car to summarize the long conversations they've had with their neighbors over the measure.

A legal resident since 1980, the young father says he still empathizes with the aspirations and fears of his many undocumented neighbors. "You hear people talking about it everywhere in our apartment building. Many people don't know what will happen," he says. The young father, who says that he and his wife are now financially stable, believes such a measure couldn't pass in Texas. "Immigrant labor is cheap," he says. "A lot of people won't do 40 hours a week of manual labor. Texans earn a lot of money with immigrant workers, and would lose a lot of money [implementing a law like Proposition 187]."

CARECEN's Lopez isn't so confident.
"I think there always has been a difference in the mentality here," he says slowly. "I think that really we don't see Texans wanting to polarize relationships between Hispanics, African-Americans, Anglos. But when something happens in California, it has an impact throughout the United States. And if someone here sees that blaming our economic problems on immigrants can help them get elected -- believe me they'll do it."

And when push comes to shove, even the confident young Mexican couple -- with their brightly dressed children, their resident status and two decent incomes -- betray the uncertainty endemic among recent immigrants, the feeling that the next card in the deck might somehow turn up against them. It's an uncertainty subtly fed by Proposition 187, made for another sort of immigrant, in another state.

"I'm sorry, but we prefer not to give our names or where we work," the young father says apologetically. "We're not hiding anything, but, well, we just need to be cautious. We have those three to look out for." He motions toward the impatient children jostling in the back seat. "And they're all we've got.

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