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Huffington Declares Support for Prop. 187


In a decision likely to add new fire to an already furious contest, Republican Senate candidate Mike Huffington on Thursday endorsed Proposition 187, the Nov. 8 ballot initiative that aims to cut off government services to illegal immigrants.

Speaking at a quickly arranged news conference in San Bernardino, Huffington said illegal immigration has become such a serious problem that it is time to send a message to illegal immigrants as well as to leaders in Washington that Californians have had enough.

"We have cut corners, looked the other way and sent the wrong message--that breaking the law pays, that only fools go through the proper immigration channels," he said. "Well, no more. I believe Proposition 187 will finally draw a line between illegal immigration--which is harmful and divisive--and legal immigration--which is beneficial to the nation and California."

The anti-illegal immigration measure has become the hottest and most emotional political issue in California this year. It is leading strongly in recent polls and has been favored by most Republican leaders in California, but it is opposed by many Democrats and some nationally prominent conservatives.

Huffington has been asked his views on Proposition 187 repeatedly since last week, when during a speech in San Francisco, he stumbled when questioned about the measure and appeared not to know what it was about. "I have not yet made a public stand on 170-er, what was that?" he said, prompting several audience members to shout its correct name.

By declaring his support for the proposition, the Santa Barbara congressman puts pressure on incumbent Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein to announce her stand. She is expected to announce her opposition to Proposition 187 in a speech today in the Bay Area.

The vitriolic and closely fought U.S. Senate campaign has become the costliest congressional race in U.S. history with $27 million in total spending so far. Some observers said Huffington's decision on Proposition 187 could benefit him in the race, particularly among conservatives, nearly a quarter of whom favored Feinstein in a recent Times poll.

"I think you'll see a major jump, up to 5 points, I believe, for Huffington on this one issue," said Harold Ezell, the controversial former INS western states director who helped write the initiative. "This is the issue in the election. It's not crime. It's not 'three strikes you're out.' It's illegal immigration and you're out. That's the issue."

Huffington, at a makeshift podium outside a convention hall, said Thursday that, "like other Californians, I've seen the strain illegal immigration places on our infrastructure and services. As a businessman, I understand the complex economic issues that underlie the problem . . . (and) as an American, and as the husband of a legal immigrant, I understand the blessings and rich contributions immigrants have made to our culture.

"But something has changed. In recent years, the problem of illegal immigration has grown beyond previously imaginable proportions. Our hospitals, our schools, our prisons are overflowing.

"It's time to send a message to those illegal immigrants who disregard our laws and take advantage of our government's misplaced generosity. Equally important, it is high time we send a message to Washington. The taxpayers of California are sick and tired of paying for Washington's federally imposed mandates while Washington ignores their federal responsibility at the border."

Speculation about Huffington's views on the immigration measure heightened this week when two GOP mainstays--former Cabinet members Jack Kemp and William J. Bennett--denounced it as racially divisive, constitutionally questionable and a slap at this nation's debt to immigrants. Politically, Kemp added, "it corrodes the soul of the party."

Notwithstanding his regard for Kemp and Bennett, the latter a sort of political tutor, Huffington said he decided to support Proposition 187 as a first step toward tackling illegal immigration.

"No. 1, they don't live in California. They both live in Washington, D.C., and they don't understand the passion of the people of this state," Huffington told reporters.

Although the measure's opponents say it would be divisive, Huffington insisted that it can be just the opposite.

"The hostility of this state toward illegal immigration has risen in direct proportion to the weakness of our political leaders to enforce the immigration laws already on the books," Huffington said. "This hostility will decrease once people know that it will become much harder to disobey the law of the land."

Asked about the measure's requirement that non-citizen children be expelled from school, Huffington said: "Right now our schools are overburdened . . . and the kids just aren't getting the education we got as young children. Do I care about the education of all the children of the world? The answer is 'Yes.' But it is up to their host countries . . . to provide that education."

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