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Ezell's Ouster Urged Over Statements Called Racist

September 24, 1987|PHILIP HAGER and LAURIE BECKLUND | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Spokesmen for a coalition of minority and civil rights groups, led by a former state Supreme Court justice, urged Wednesday that regional U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Commissioner Harold Ezell be fired for remarks made two years ago that they said are racist.

Former Justice Cruz Reynoso, defeated in a bid for reconfirmation last fall and now a practicing attorney, said the groups had sent a letter to President Reagan demanding Ezell's ouster.

In another development, INS Commissioner Alan C. Nelson wrote to a congressman Wednesday that he found other remarks Ezell had made in an interview with The Times in July "too strong" and has "directed (Ezell) to show better care in choosing his words."

Reynoso and others at a news conference here cited an article published Aug. 2 in the San Francisco Examiner that said Ezell had "once suggested that some illegal immigrants should be 'skinned and fried' and then deported."

'Out of Context'

A spokesman for Ezell denounced the allegations, saying that the statement was "taken grossly out of context" from remarks the commissioner made two years ago.

Joe Flanders said Ezell's statement had been directed "solely against a criminal element" that traffics in fraudulent documents, such as forged passports. Flanders said the statement was made in connection with an INS crackdown on a "multimillion-dollar-a-year criminal enterprise" involving such documents. "There were no racist overtones whatsoever," he added.

The letter sent to the President was signed by the Latino Issues Forum, representing the League of United Latin American Citizens, the American GI Forum, Chinese for Affirmation Action, the Filipino American Political Assn. and other groups.

The coalition also accused Ezell of pursuing an "anti-immigrant, deport-at-any-cost" policy and charged that implementation of the nation's new immigration law had been "singularly and surprisingly unsuccessful" in the Western region. Less than 20% of an estimated 2 million eligible aliens have applied so far for temporary resident alien status, it said.

Effect on Immigrants

Reynoso said he has "no personal basis" to believe Ezell is "a racist," but that he is concerned about the effect of the commissioner's remarks on immigrants.

"The key here is that he is a very, very important official," Reynoso said. "We can't have a person in that position who has created such antagonism."

Flanders defended the agency's efforts to implement the immigration legislation, saying the INS has instituted "dozens of programs" designed to encourage eligible aliens to apply for residency.

In The Times interview, Ezell portrayed a series of death squad-style incidents in Los Angeles this summer as an "orchestrated P.R. campaign" by the religious sanctuary movement and suggested that some of the incidents might have been fabricated. He said the campaign was "tied into a (congressional) debate" on a bill that would allow Salvadorans to remain in the United States until war in El Salvador subsides.

The sponsor of that bill, Rep. Joe Moakley (D-Boston), demanded an investigation by Nelson, Ezell's boss, and threatened to call a congressional investigation into Ezell's comportment. An aide to Moakley said Wednesday that the congressman found Nelson's letter "conciliatory" but disturbing and has not decided whether to proceed with an investigation.

Specifically, the aide said Moakley was disturbed about a statement by Nelson claiming that Ezell was unaware of the House debate. Ezell made reference to that debate in the published interview with The Times.

Ezell could not be reached for comment. However, Nelson's letter said Ezell "has offered his apology in this matter to you and any other member of Congress for the tenor of his remarks."

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