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State Waits to See What Prop. 187 Will Really Mean : Reaction: As measure becomes law, emotions range from fear to elation. But there is also great uncertainty.

November 10, 1994|DAVID FERRELL and ROBERT J. LOPEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

And so again, Californians awoke to the strains of upheaval--not, this time, from rioting or earthquakes, but from a ballot measure, a directive of the people that brought a jarring shift to the political landscape.

Overnight, California tilted on its edge. It was no longer the land of opportunity, at least to many. It had taken on a harder edge, become more divided, less a melting pot, us and them .

By viewpoints bitterly divided, here was the bold, trend-setting state or the ice-hearted domain where the people had put dollar concerns ahead of humanitarian will, where they had finally risen up to shout, Stop! Send us no more of your poor--no more of those undocumented huddled masses, streaming in by the thousands.

Yet in the aftermath of Proposition 187's emphatic victory, there was more than just pain and elation. There also was confusion and hand-wringing, a swell of concern about what it all might mean--whether the initiative can be enforced, whether the courts will call it legal, whether anything will, or should, change at all.

For months, the proposition stood as the focal point of one of the most rancorous campaigns in state history. Now, there comes a sense of disquiet--everyone waiting for the fallout to settle, for the new order to take shape.

Wednesday was a time to reflect and to look ahead. From the timber forests of far Northern California to Smuggler's Canyon, where immigrants gather to cross the Mexican border, the next stage of the great debate had begun.

CENTRAL VALLEY / Struggling to Survive

At the Paradise Bar on Atlantic Boulevard, pallet manufacturer Alex Gonzales said the measure probably would change nothing for the three undocumented workers he employs because few Americans are willing to do the same work.

"I told them, 'Don't worry about it,' " Gonzales said. " 'You still have have a job.' "

In Ladera Heights, where day laborers gather each morning, there was no change in their simple routine. The regular crowd of about 50 convened outside a Home Base store, some expressing doubt that Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies would enforce the provisions of the new law.

But even if they do, workers vowed to wait for jobs. After all, they said, they have to survive.

"We can't be afraid. We have to confront this issue," said Juan Carlos, 30, the father of three children. "It is either this or starve."

A man who arrived looking for temporary employees said he did not believe that the ballot measure will make much difference.

"It's all about supply and demand," said the man, who was offering $7 an hour to help prune trees. He hired two helpers and drove away.

In other places, the potential impact on the pool of low-cost labor also loomed large. In the farm-rich San Joaquin Valley, November is dead time: Vineyards and fruit orchards have been picked clean and the workers, both legal and illegal, who did the hard toil of the harvest have returned to Mexico or moved on to apple orchards in Washington.

Therefore, the debate over Proposition 187 moved indoors--to places such as Austin's coffee shop in Sanger, where farmers took differing views on how it will affect a region where as much as 50% of the peak-season work force crosses the border illegally.

"Let's hope 187 is tied up in the courts for a long time," one raisin farmer said, " 'cause if they stop them from coming over, you can kiss this valley goodby."

But raisin packer Gerald Chooljian took a different view, saying he voted for the measure even though he considers it unconstitutional. Some undocumented Mexican workers, he said, fraudulently collect unemployment benefits using phony documents. He wanted to send a message.

"The politicians need to know that we're sick and tired of welfare programs," Chooljian said.

"But it's not the illegals who are abusing the welfare system," said Jim Jerkovich, who argued that the percentage of unemployment abusers is small. "They're too afraid they'll be caught and sent back."

Labor contractor Larry Peters, who voted against Proposition 187, was ebullient nevertheless. "How sweet it is," he said. "I voted straight Republican up and down. I didn't give a damn who they were."

Asked how he could reconcile a vote for Gov. Pete Wilson and a vote against the proposition, he smiled and said, "It doesn't make any sense at all."

NEWPORT BEACH / A 'Great Day'

The proposition found much of its staunchest support among the well-heeled, including those at Fashion Island, the upscale mall overlooking the sea in Newport Beach. Voters there said they were tired of carrying the financial burden of illegal immigration.

"Today is my great day," said Mike Sawdie, a silver-haired, 48-year-old lawyer who had stopped at Brooks Brothers, his favorite clothing store. He was picking out a tie to go with a new jacket and flashy suspenders. "We have so limited resources today that we need to use them to take care of our own. . . . Ask the homeless people or elderly if we have enough resources.

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