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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS : PROP. 187 : Immigrant Measure Foes Open Drive : A coalition including Sheriff Sherman Block attacks ballot initiative that would withhold public services to those here illegally. Its co-author accuses them of appealing to public fears.

August 19, 1994|PAUL FELDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Charging that passage of Proposition 187 could lead to increases in juvenile crime and deadly disease, a broad-based coalition of educational, political and medical officials kicked off their campaign Thursday against the so-called "Save Our State" initiative that would deny a wide range of public services to illegal immigrants and their children.

"I am as concerned about illegal immigration and its impact on this state as anyone else," said Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block. "But Proposition 187 does not address the problem in any fashion and, in fact, to my mind, actually exacerbates the problem."

Block addressed a news conference outside the Los Angeles County Jail along with leaders of organizations including the California State PTA, California School Boards Assn., California Teachers Assn. and American College of Emergency Physicians.

Later, in a telephone interview, Harold Ezell, co-author of the ballot measure, spoke confidently about the initiative's chances for success and also accused opponents of appealing to public fears.

Several speakers at the Los Angeles gathering acknowledged that Proposition 187 is a "hot button" issue offering alternatives that sound attractive, at first glance, to voters tired of illegal immigration.

But the initiative, they said, could prove counterproductive by booting as many as 400,000 youths out of public schools and by denying basic medical care and immunizations to those without proper documentation.

"This would put children out on the streets and quite frankly, we know what happens with dropouts," said Pat Dingsdale, president of the state PTA. "The writers of this initiative did not do their homework."

"You simply cannot do disease control selectively," said Dr. Thomas Peters, chairman of the Assn. of Bay Area Health Officials. "I've been a public health official in California for 20 years and I have never seen a more direct assault, a more direct threat, on the public health of all Californians."

Initiative opponents also cited a report by the nonpartisan state legislative analyst's office that says California risks losing up to $15 billion a year in federal funds because of conflicts between the initiative and federal privacy and non-discrimination rules. Most of the money in peril would be federal child welfare and medical funds.

"Think of how large a tax hike would be necessary to cover that cost," said Vilma Martinez, a Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund board member.

Leaders of the anti-Proposition 187 forces acknowledged that coalition members span a wide spectrum in regard to how to best deal with illegal immigration.

Block called for tough new policing efforts at the nation's borders to keep out illegal immigrants, a stand not universally endorsed by opponents of the November ballot measure.

But the main point, all agreed, is that Proposition 187 will not work.

"I've been called everything from stupid to courageous for taking a stand on this issue," said Block. "But Proposition 187 is a hoax."

Ezell had other words Thursday to describe the sheriff and his opinions.

"As far back as Block and his gospel band are in the polls, they need to strike up the band and get the people out," said Ezell, former top Western administrator of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. "But they're not going to change public opinion, which has been growing in saying something has to be done."

Ezell accused opponents of spreading misinformation in citing the potential $15-billion cost and in raising the specter of 400,000 public school students out on the streets. If the ballot measure is approved, he said, it would first trigger a court challenge to a landmark 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that stated that illegal immigrant children are entitled to a public school education.

"That's the reason we put this on Proposition 187--to go back and revisit the 1982 decision," Ezell said. "There's no 300,000 or 400,000 little kids going to be turned out of school when this thing passes. Who knows when it will get to the Supreme Court?"

As for medical care, Ezell emphasized that the measure would not affect emergency treatment. "But as far as giving free medical aid to every other person here illegally, you have to say no.

"If it's immunizations," Ezell continued, "let some of the private groups pay for some of this stuff. Let MALDEF open a clinic for it. Let the Ford Foundation pay for that."

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