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Complaint Filed Over Report by O.C. Grand Jury


A Latino rights group said Wednesday it filed a federal complaint charging that a recent Orange County Grand Jury report on immigration has so inflamed racial tensions that it could contribute to civil unrest similar to the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

The eight-page complaint to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights requests a local public hearing on racial and ethnic tensions. Group organizers also said they have verbally requested a federal investigation into whether there is equal justice for minorities and the poor in Orange County.

Several Orange County officials declined to comment Wednesday on the complaint because they had not read it, but they said raising the possibility of racial violence was inappropriate and unfair.

Barbara Brooks, a spokeswoman for the federal civil rights commission, could not confirm whether the complaint would result in an investigation. Evidence of federal civil rights violations is turned over to the appropriate federal agency for investigation and enforcement, if needed, Brooks said.

She said violations could result in the loss of federal funding or legal action.

The complaint focuses on a grand jury report released in June that blamed a host of society's ills on illegal immigration and took the unusual step of recommending a total ban on immigration nationwide.

But the complaint also includes 21 other concerns, ranging from an apparent rise in racism to allegations that an Orange County judge routinely denied legal representation for the poor.

"The revelations that were brought forth show a pattern of neglect and discrimination," said Arturo Montez, head of the Santa Ana chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, which joined the California chapter of LULAC in filing the complaint.

"We are asking for a review. We want them to take a look at the legal system in Orange County in terms of making it better," said Zeke Hernandez, state director of LULAC, the largest Latino organization in the country.

County Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, who declined comment on the complaint because he had not seen it, said he felt such fears of heightened racial tension are overblown.

"The county has been involved in many efforts to enhance the understanding of ethnic diversity," Vasquez said, referring to the recent elections of various Asian-Americans to local and national leadership positions. "It would be a very harsh judgment on this county to say that this county was not one of inclusion."

Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, who also had not seen the complaint, said he believes that an escalation of racial tensions similar to Los Angeles was "hardly likely to happen."

Board of Supervisors Chairman Harriett M. Wieder said the board will look over all of the grand jury's reports, including the immigration report, as part of a routine review. She declined comment on the federal complaint but said it illustrates that the Latino rights advocates are committed to their cause.

"It shows that they are standing on the courage of their convictions by doing this," Wieder said.

Rusty Kennedy, head of the Human Relations Commission that voted July 8 to petition the federal civil rights commission to evaluate the grand jury and its method of selecting members, declined comment because he had not yet seen the complaint.

The complaint, completed Monday, was filed as a follow-up to public hearings that the federal civil rights commission held in Los Angeles on June 15-17. The hearings were held as part of a nationwide review into racial and ethnic tensions. Brooks said it was likely that LULAC's complaints would be included in a federal report scheduled to be released in early 1994.

"The Orange County Latino community and LULAC in general, recognize a tremendous potential for civil unrest in Orange County, similar to the civil disturbances that occurred in Los Angeles last year," according to the complaint.

"We can no longer continue to close our eyes and hope that the tension that is building will go away," the complaint later adds.

To underscore its concerns, the complaint notes the recent arrest of a band of reputed white supremacists who allegedly planned to start a race war in Orange and Los Angeles counties.

It also details an ongoing review by state authorities into allegations that an Orange County municipal judge systematically denied poor, mostly minority defendants, their constitutional right to a court-appointed attorney.

The complaint additionally questions whether the judicial system treats minorities the same as Anglos in imposing sentences. It also says racist tactics are allowed to be used in elections. And the complaint also alleges that law enforcement agencies target minorities and that the county has sought to dilute Latino voting strength.

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