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Emotions Run High in Prop. 187 Debate

September 19, 1994|TOM RAGAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEWPORT BEACH — Opponents say if Proposition 187 passes, school officials and doctors and social service agencies will, in effect, become agents for the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Skin colors and last names will become suspect and lead to discrimination. About 300,000 students in public schools could be turned out, and $15 billion in federal funds could be lost and disease go untreated.

But the other side says that if the state ballot measure is approved in November, public education will improve because there will be fewer students and more teachers per classroom.

There will, these people say, be a smooth transition for illegal immigrant students not entitled to an education--they won't be kicked out immediately, if they are kicked out at all. What's more, there is no way the federal government will withhold funds to so large and powerful a state as California.

Those were the arguments Sunday night at an emotionally charged forum at St. Mark Presbyterian Church. An estimated 150 people showed up to learn more about the controversial initiative by questioning a five-member panel, including proposition co-author Ron Prince.

The so-called Save Our State initiative, which would bar illegal immigrants from attending public schools and deny them non-emergency health care and social services, has been called racist by many who oppose it.

But Bill King, a former INS official of 37 years and one of the panel members, said: "I keep on hearing it's a racist issue, which is vexing to me. It's not about ancestry; it's about illegal behavior. Those who say the proposition is racist . . . well, that's just a crutch to lean on."

Racially motivated or not, Proposition 187 would do nothing to solve the state's illegal immigration woes, its opponents agreed, because most immigrants come for jobs first, not benefits. The measure could also lead to greater health problems by denying illegal immigrants immunizations, said Dr. Robert T. Miner, a panelist and member of the Orange County Medical Assn.

"Disease is 100% nonpartisan, and it has no respect for borders," he said. "Even killer bees don't respect our borders. Proposition 187 is the wrong prescription for a serious disease. But if you don't allow me to treat the little illegal alien now, I'm going to be treating people inside your homes."

But Prince, a Tustin accountant, said it is wiser to start denying health care to illegal immigrants now rather than later.

"The good doctor (Miner) is living in an ideal world where we try to treat every patient," Prince said. "But the state health care system is already strained and overburdened. It may be a hard choice to deny health care now, but the situation is bad and it's getting worse."

Mary Hornbuckle, a panelist and a Costa Mesa City Council member who opposes the proposition, said the initiative wouldcost taxpayers in future legal challenges, if the voters approve it. That's exactly what happened to the city of Costa Mesa, she said, when it tried to stop the influx of illegal immigrants by challenging federal laws in court.

"It may be great politics," she said of the initiative. "But it's bad public policy."

Mitchell Valbuena of Costa Mesa stood up and told the panelists in favor of the proposition that they had everything turned around.

"Illegal immigrants don't cost us money--they make us money and they save us money with their cheap labor," he said.

But Barbara Coe, a co-chairperson for the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, said: "This is a nation of laws, and people must abide by them. If we had the money and the wherewithal, we'd happily educate the children and medicate the children and put them in beautiful homes. But we don't have the money."

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