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Wilson Defends Immigration Proposals : Politics: In Orange County, the governor insists that Washington's failures have contributed to the state's troubles. As to racism charges, he says, 'I can't be deterred.'


SAN CLEMENTE — One day after he proposed a sweeping reform of federal immigration laws, Gov. Pete Wilson said Tuesday that he was not blaming California's problems on immigrants who had "the moxie to come up for a better life" but rather on Washington's failure to control the nation's borders.

In a series of Orange County appearances, Wilson complained that illegal immigration has become a major burden to state government and has contributed to a decline in California's quality of life.

"I don't fault the immigrants," he said during a news conference at a Border Patrol checkpoint in San Clemente. "If I were down there, I'd undoubtedly be trying to come up here too. That isn't the point. It's not about race; it's about status and the failure of the federal government to have a responsible immigration policy."

Wilson outlined a sweeping immigration reform plan in Los Angeles on Monday that called for a constitutional amendment to deny citizenship to children born on U.S. soil to unlawful residents. He also recommended in an open letter to President Clinton that the federal government cut off health and education benefits for illegal immigrants and prepare a tamper-proof identification card to ensure that public services are provided only to legal residents.

Wilson said his proposals are aimed at eliminating the incentive for foreign residents to move illegally to the United States. But he also faced questions Tuesday about whether his public posturing on the issue--one that is not even in the realm of state government--was inspired by his sagging poll ratings.

"I'm doing it because it's my job," Wilson said in an interview with The Times in Orange County. "I would regard it as a dereliction of duty if I did not address this. . . . The first time I ever discussed this I was accused of immigrant bashing and being a racist. I can't be deterred by that."

Wilson said illegal immigration costs California $3 billion annually. Because of those costs, the state has been unable to provide prenatal care for 40,000 pregnant women, he said.

In a separate report, the governor's office outlined school and social programs that could be funded if illegal immigration were not burdening the state.

Wilson also said Tuesday that he believes legal immigration should be temporarily halted because of the stress on the state's services.

Neither of California's two Democratic U.S. senators attacked Wilson's proposal on Tuesday. While Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have offered their own reform plans, both saw some merit in parts of Wilson's plan.

"I believe that the proposals Gov. Wilson has outlined warrant serious consideration," said Boxer.

Feinstein questioned Wilson's plan to deny citizenship to the children of unlawful residents, but she added that the idea of a tamper-proof identification card "makes some sense." She noted that national health care plans will also probably require some form of identification.

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