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From Prop 187 To Trump's 'Public Charge' Rule. Some Activists Worry History Is Repeating

A banner at an anti-Prop 187 rally at the Federal Building in San Francisco in December 1994 reads "Home of the Young." (Darryl Bush/AP)
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Julio Cano was 12 years old and living in Anaheim in November 1994. He was also really sick.

His parents were from Mexico, and they were living in the U.S. illegally. At the time, Proposition 187 -- a ballot measure aimed at blocking a range of public services to people who couldn't prove they were allowed to be in the country -- was the subject of fierce debate.

Julio's parents were scared to take him to a public clinic or hospital for fear that health care workers would alert immigration authorities.

They had reason to be worried.

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Proposition 187 denied non-emergency health care services to California immigrants who didn't have legal status. It also mandated that health care agencies report patients suspected to be living here illegally to immigration authorities.

By the time Julio's parents saved up enough money to take him to a private doctor, it was too late. Julio died of complications due to acute advanced leukemia on Nov. 19 -- just 11 days after Prop 187 passed.

A judge had already blocked the ballot measure from going into effect but his parents hadn't heard the news.

Latino activists said Julio's death was a direct result of the fear stirred up by Prop 187.

"The question was, had they probably gone earlier, the child might have been saved," said Art Montez, who was then the public policy director of Santa Ana's chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

At the time, community health clinics across the state reported that their patients were afraid to come in for doctor visits.

Jane Garcia has been the CEO of a large group of community health clinics, La Clínica de la Raza, in the Bay Area since 1982. In the wake of Prop 187, she and her colleagues posted signs with messages like, "You are safe in this building," and "We will continue to provide care to you."

"Part of our work was ... to assure our families that they were safe in our health centers," Garcia said, "and that they could safely access health care services."

That messaging is still relevant today, she added.

This summer, the Trump administration published what's known as the "public charge" rule. The rule would make it easier for authorities to deny a green card to someone who uses, or could potentially use, public benefits like food stamps, low-income housing vouchers and publicly funded health care.

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Federal judges blocked the rule last month, but as with Prop 187, some health care providers say immigrants are again scared to seek health care.

Garcia said it's like history repeating itself, but this time at the federal level. Still, she's hopeful that public sentiment regarding immigrants is now more positive.

"We have successfully changed the narrative," and California has embraced its immigrants and believes that the rest of the country will learn from that, Garcia said.

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