WESTMINSTER — Gov. Pete Wilson on Monday praised legal immigrants for their entrepreneurial spirit but continued to hammer away at illegal immigrants for costing the state billions of dollars in public services.
"Little Saigon is an indication of the vitality and diversity that legal immigrants bring to California," Wilson told a gathering of Asian American business leaders at a restaurant here. "We're fortunate for the kind of people who came here and enriched our lives."
Repeating a campaign theme, Wilson said that providing services to illegal immigrants "is an insult to those who followed the arduous process" of becoming legal residents and U.S. citizens.
"It's wrong to train a blind eye to the problem of illegal immigration," Wilson said. "It's a violation of U.S. laws that simply can not be tolerated."
Wilson's call for changes in immigration law and tougher laws against crime drew repeated applause and chants of "four more years" from the crowd of about 150 Asian American leaders and Wilson supporters.
The event launched "Team Wilson '94," a coalition in the Asian-American community dedicated to Wilson's reelection campaign against Democratic challenger Kathleen Brown.
The coalition includes representatives of Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Indian, Cambodian, Laotian, Thai, Afghan, Pakistani and Hmong organizations. Its members include lawyers, bankers, doctors, accountants and other professionals and some Buddhist monks.
John D. Tsu, the coalition's state chairman, said that Wilson has made it possible for more Asian Americans to receive public services by signing into law legislation that ensures a more accurate census count.
The law, signed in September, provides separate counts for residents of Filipino, Chinese, Korean and Japanese descent instead of lumping them all together under the category of Asians or Pacific Islanders, Tsu said.
Inder Singh, chairman of the National Federation of Indian-American Associations, said he supports cracking down on illegal immigrants because they "downgrade the status of legal immigrants."
"Every immigrant becomes a suspect," Singh said.
Wilson also used the occasion to scold organizers of a rally Sunday that drew about 70,000 participants in Los Angeles against Proposition 187, the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot that would deny illegal immigrants and their children public education, non-emergency medical care and other services.
Wilson, who supports Proposition 187, said that opponents of the measure are trying to confuse people by using the "false threat that everyone becomes an INS agent."
If passed, the measure would require teachers to report students and their parents suspected of being illegal immigrants. Doctors, nurses and the police would also be required to report suspected illegal immigrants, opponents say.
The ballot measure has widespread support, according to recent surveys, but opponents say the measure is mean-spirited, violates federal law and could cost California taxpayers billions of dollars.