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An Initiative Even Conservatives Can Hate : Prop. 187: You don't have to be a liberal to oppose the dehumanization of illegal immigrants.

PROP. 187: Measure would deny public health, education and welfare benefits to illegal immigrants; One in a series

October 07, 1994|BRIAN O'LEARY BENNETT | Brian O'Leary Bennett is a former chief of staff to Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) and was a delegate to the 1988 and 1992 Republican national conventions.

On Jan. 11, 1989, President Ronald Reagan delivered a vintage lump-in-the-throat final address to the nation. Toward the end he said: "I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace . . . and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still."

Millions possessed of such "will and heart to get here" are here illegally. While it would be unfair to suggest that Reagan advocates illegal immigration as a vehicle, he was reminding us in the metaphor he loves most that immigrants are innately beneficial to America, notwithstanding legal status. After all, there is no human difference between a legal Vietnamese refugee and an illegal Haitian or Mexican.

Yet, regrettably, it appears that more than a majority of the former President's fellow Californians will vote Nov. 8 for Proposition 187, the initiative to "save our state" from immigrants here illegally.

We can argue endlessly about the net effect that illegal aliens have on the state's treasury and economy. I happen to believe that they are a net plus. But I don't need to be proved wrong to still know that this initiative is wrong. I don't condone lawbreaking. I don't believe that illegal aliens are entitled to most social benefits. But meat-axing essentials like medical care and education, as this initiative proposes, is unsafe, morally suspect, politically shortsighted and culturally separatist.

However unintentional, Proposition 187 subtly attacks the dignity and humanity of a defenseless people (particularly from Latin America). It encourages those who would equate illegal status with being stupid, lazy, even criminal. Proposition 187 would treat these immigrants more severely than felons: Even the worst thugs housed in our prisons get vaccinations.

Those of us who believe in the rights of the unborn understand how dangerous it is to rely solely on legal status to define how we treat a person. Abortion supporters have successfully confused and so far persuaded Americans that the unborn are not "legal" persons. The result has been the destruction of 26 million babies in their mothers' wombs.

While nothing can compare with the monstrous results of abortion, or slavery for that matter, a dangerous precedent is being repeated: Deny legal personhood to a class of fellow human beings and you can deny fundamental rights.

Ever since the New Deal, conservatives have criticized the left for using one level of government to usurp the prerogatives of another. Yet many conservatives now wrongly embrace the state initiative process to affect what is clearly a federal responsibility. Securing our borders is the constitutional responsibility of the national government, period. Until Washington attaches to the protection of our southern border the same diplomatic urgency it rightly gave to NAFTA, our border will not be secure. And if Washington won't, pray that at least Gov. Wilson's suit succeeds in getting California reimbursed for a problem that Washington allowed to mushroom into unmanageability.

As for having children of illegal immigrants thrown out of school--what possible good can come from that? This is the most shameful aspect of Proposition 187. The damage to innocent children will be incalculable in its profound and permanent harm to them and to this state's economic and social future. We will see spring up among us a generation of ignorant and troubled children who, lacking our common language and political and social ideals, will evolve into a huge, parallel underclass. This triumph of cultural separatism defies common sense.

We Republicans share so many values with today's immigrants. It has proved a winning alliance at the ballot box. Don't be confused by Proposition 187's supposed focus on illegal immigrants; it would demean all immigrants. Let us not be seen as the anti-immigrant party that my Irish-American Democrat grandfather believed it to be. We have accomplished so much.

Yes, illegal immigrants broke the law. But they are here in great numbers and impossible to send back. Better to decide how to deal with them. Certainly, turning our schools, businesses and hospitals into INS battlefields is not the answer. The border is where our fight ought to be.

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