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ELECTIONS / PROP. 187 : Officials See Health Risks in Measure

October 18, 1994|CARLOS V. LOZANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County public health officials on Monday denounced a statewide ballot initiative that would bar most health care to illegal immigrants, calling it a reckless measure that could lead to epidemics of communicable diseases.

"If we don't have the tools to deal with those people who are ill, we're not going to be able to protect anybody's health," said Dr. Gary Feldman, the county's public health officer. "The result is that we all suffer."

Proposition 187, which has become the center of an increasingly heated public debate, would leave people more vulnerable to the spread of AIDS, tuberculosis, measles, hepatitis and other infectious diseases, Feldman warned.

"These diseases don't ask anyone whether they're a legal resident or whether they have a green card," Feldman said during a news conference at the County Government Center in Ventura. "Whomever they infect can transmit that illness throughout the community."

But supporters of the measure said that illegal immigration continues to be one of the major problems facing the state, and pointed out that opinion polls show voters favoring Proposition 187 by as much as 2 to 1.

"I expect all the usual suspects to come out and scream and pound their chests" against Proposition 187, said Steve Frank, coordinator of the Ventura County campaign in support of the measure. "But real people, the voters who are paying the bills, are not buying this gobbledygook. They're saying, 'If politicians won't take action, then we will.' "

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In addition to non-emergency health care, Proposition 187 would also bar education and welfare benefits to illegal immigrants and their children.

With such a strong showing of public support for the measure, immigrant activists and local government and school officials have begun their own campaigns to oppose the ballot initiative.

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors, the county Board of Education and school boards in Oxnard and Ventura have all passed resolutions opposing Proposition 187. The board of the Simi Valley Unified School District will discuss the issue at its meeting tonight.

And last week, hundreds of opponents of the initiative marched through the streets of Ventura to urge defeat of the ballot measure. A similar demonstration in Los Angeles on Sunday drew 70,000 people.

Feldman and other county officials said Monday that their primary concern is the effect that Proposition 187 would have on public health, particularly in preventing children from being immunized against polio, measles and other transmittable diseases.

"It's a real step backwards," said Dr. Barbara Thorpe, chairwoman of the county's Public Health Community Advisory Board. "It's a regressive step for an enlightened society."

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Thorpe added that it is much cheaper to prevent the spread of diseases, rather than to treat those who are already infected.

"What we're really doing is deferring the cost," she said.

Joining Feldman and Thorpe at Monday's news conference were school nurse Linda Butcher, who is also a member of the county's Public Health Community Advisory Board, and county Supervisor John K. Flynn.

All of the officials agreed that something must be done to stem the tide of illegal immigration, but that Proposition 187 is not the answer.

"I think we should be legislating problems with immigration at our borders and not in our neighborhoods and communities," Butcher said.

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