John SW Park


Proposition 187 inspired a visceral public discourse. Proponents and opponents of the measure discussed several themes important to contemporary political theory, particularly themes related to sovereignty and civil rights. This Note shows how participants in that debate-including people of color-spoke of "rights" in a way that denied the possibility for undocumented aliens to have rights. When citizens spoke, they did so in a way that implicitly linked rights to citizenship; in other words, they assumed that without citizenship, persons were not entitled to rights or rights-based claims. Ironically, the debate about Proposition 187 pointed to the achievements of a "civil rights" vision, even as that debate reduced undocumented aliens to "nonpersons," without rights and without a legitimate place in society. California citizens talked, instead, about how useless or useful undocumented aliens were and about how society should best manage them as a resource. The debate raised serious questions about the limits of a civil rights discourse, and about its potential to divide people of color against themselves.