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Creators Set Prop. 187 for National Stage : Immigration: O.C. backers say groups in 18 states have sought advice.

November 10, 1994|MARTIN MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fresh from their huge triumph, the Orange County creators of Proposition 187 are looking to add another item to the state's mighty list of exports--a ballot-box solution to illegal immigration. And they say they are finding plenty of takers.

Like Howard Jarvis and his legions of Proposition 13 supporters in 1978, today's Proposition 187 backers envision their hot-button initiative sweeping the nation, reshaping immigration policy state by state.

At stake, just as with the Jarvis' tax revolt, is the financial health of the entire country, say its advocates. The new measure denies education, non-emergency health care and other public services to illegal immigrants.

Already Orange County organizers are being contacted by like-minded partisans who are eager to fan similar movements in 18 other states. In Texas and Florida, where some argue illegal immigration is bankrupting government, activists have been especially aggressive in courting help from the Orange County founders of what may be a burgeoning political juggernaut.

"We felt initially this would have a ripple effect across the country, but now are thinking it will be a tidal wave," said Huntington Beach resident Barbara Coe, co-chairwoman of California Coalition For Immigration Reform.

"Like it or not, California is a national trendsetter," added Harold W. Ezell, a former INS official from Newport Beach who co-authored the initiative. "And the whole nation is focused on California right now over this issue."

While unified in their dislike for illegal immigration, the founders and key organizers behind 187 don't agree about what comes next for the loose coalition that came to gather last October.

Yorba Linda political consultant Robert Kiley, who along with wife Barbara served on the 187 organizing committee, is trying to market this home-grown political prairie fire to anti-illegal immigrant activists in other states.

"We modeled this after what Prop. 13 was trying to accomplish," he said. "We took a page out of Ronald Reagan's book: If you can't get any cooperation out of the bureaucrats and you can't get anything out of the press, then take it directly to the people."

Others like Coe are political neophytes, and while they want to see their movement spread, they were unprepared for the magnitude of their triumph and unsure about how to capitalize on it. Coe was able to sense and exploit an undercurrent of resentment statewide, a strategy she thinks can be duplicated elsewhere.

However, opponents said it's premature to declare that the ballot initiative constitutes a national movement before at least 10 different court challenges to it are litigated. Opponents already claimed a minor victory Wednesday when a federal judge granted a temporary ban against implementing Proposition 187.

Opponents also argue that the poor economic conditions that allowed the initiative to win so handily in California simply don't exist to the same degree in other states.

"There's no national mandate," said John Palacio, with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "The bottom line is that opposition to this divisive and discriminatory measure was steadily growing before the election."

On election night, proponents were confident their measure would be vindicated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Though a 1982 Supreme Court ruling requires states to educate children regardless of their legal status, 187 supporters said the composition of the court has shifted to the right. Tustin accountant Ron Prince, co-chairman of the Save Our State campaign, said a court victory could come within a year.

On Wednesday, the band of Orange County newcomers, many of them unaccustomed to the grueling demands of a major campaign, quietly relished the lopsided election returns that gave 59% approval to their once obscure initiative.

"I'm still reeling," said Coe, 61, amid stacks of files and 187 campaign posters crowding her Huntington Beach kitchen.

Coe, a civilian employee with the Anaheim Police Department, said activists from states with high numbers of illegal immigrants are planning to convene soon to discuss a state-by-state strategy.

For his part, Kiley, who received victory congratulations from as far away as Germany, said he is negotiating to manage immigration reform campaigns in Arizona, Washington and Florida.

A stumbling block to their personal involvement in similar campaigns across the country is money. The 187 campaign is about $250,000 in debt, said Ezell who, like thousands of others, took time away from his job to volunteer.

Ezell, who spoke with newly elected Texas Gov. George W. Bush about similar immigration reform two weeks ago, said he would like to promote legislation based on the initiative elsewhere, but might not be able to afford it.

Whether they lead a nationwide movement or not, local backers say they will share their organizational tactics and strategies.

"A lot of blood was spilled to keep our nation safe . . . and we want to make sure our nation's sovereignty is maintained," Coe said. "Call me a flag-waver, if you want. I guess I am."

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