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Costa Mesa Should Jettison Alien Policy

August 20, 1989

Mayor Peter F. Buffa of Costa Mesa, meeting Thursday with more than two dozen charities protesting the city's ill-conceived new policy of withholding money from any group that helps illegal immigrants, said that he would consider their opposing arguments when the council decides how to implement and enforce the policy.

The mayor misses the point. It is not a policy that should ever be implemented. Or enforced. It never should have been adopted in the first place. And the only reasonable and considerate response would be to correct that misguided mistake by rescinding the ill-advised action.

Charitable organizations never ask hungry people where they are from and refuse to feed or clothe them if they cannot prove citizenship or legal-resident status. It is just as unthinkable and inhumane for a city to do so, or try to impose such a standard on any religious or charitable group.

Costa Mesa, which once was considered one of the more humanitarian and enlightened cities in the county, has continued a series of recent actions clearly designed to discourage and drive away the homeless, the hungry and the illegal immigrants in its midst.

The city last week initiated action against the South Coast Christian Church, which has been open for more than 20 years, ostensibly because one resident complained about a soup kitchen feeding the hungry and homeless at the church since last April. City officials contend that a new permit is needed because the kitchen goes beyond the uses of a church. The church has decided to fight the city. The congregation doesn't think the U.S. Constitution allows the city to determine what services a church can offer its flock.

The city has regulatory powers, but the council seems to be stretching them to drive what it deems undesirables out of town. Will houses of worship be forced to seek and secure city approval to pass out food baskets at Christmas? Or when they serve Thanksgiving and Passover meals? Or pass out clothing? What other church functions will Costa Mesa's Gang of Three decide to put under the city's purview?

The city action withholding funds from any group that serves illegal immigrants brings shame not only to the three council members who voted the hardhearted and unworkable policy into practice--but to the community that in its silence allows it to continue.

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