Appeals for fair treatment and justice for the foreign born have coincided with waves of anti-immigrant backlash throughout American history. Anti-Semitic (Item 19) and white power tracts (Item 20) were prevalent beginning in the 1920s and continuing through World War II.

The contemporary debate echoes the historical one, with political commentators inciting fear of a foreign "invasion" that would change the way things are in America, irrevocably and for the worse. For example, Patrick J. Buchanan warned as recently as 2006 about a "state of emergency" facing the U.S. from a "third world" invasion leading to a "conquest" of America (Item 22). UCI anthropologist Leo R. Chavez counters this apocalyptic rhetoric with a deconstruction of the presumed "Latino threat" (Item 23).

Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot initiative (also known as "Save Our State") that sought to deny social services, health care, and education to the undocumented, was passed by California voters. It immediately became tied up in the courts, and eventually its most punitive provisions were thrown out. In Orange County, Costa Mesa soon became "ground zero" in the immigration debate as the city sought to police and apprehend undocumented aliens. The plan proposed by Mayor Allan Mansoor and endorsed by then-Sheriff Mike Carona (Item 24) led to the city being ridiculed by critics such as Orange Coast Voice editor John Earl as "Costa Migra" (Item 25)--a reference to la migra, the Spanish-language colloquialism for immigration police. On April 1, 2006, thousands of demonstrators converged on Costa Mesa to march in support of immigrants' rights (Item 18).

Orange County-based anti-immigration groups sprang into action, including Jim Gilchrist's Minutemen and Barbara Coe's California Coalition for Immigration Reform. Facing them off were LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) (Item 17) and other civil rights organizations. Other Orange County cities also became embroiled in at times raucous debates over immigration. A mobile service of the Mexican consulate, which issues identity cards to Mexican nationals--a practice of many consulates--was driven out of the Capistrano School District in south Orange County in early 2008 (Item 26).