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O.C. Officials Keep Prop. 187 on Hold : Reaction: 'Wait and see,' say schools, health and social service agencies. Little will change soon.

November 10, 1994|JODI WILGOREN and ALICIA DI RADO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Orange County school, health and social service officials hurried Wednesday to spread a "wait-and-see" message about Proposition 187, trying to reassure illegal immigrant families and others that little would change in coming weeks as the sweeping measure is challenged in court.

The county Social Services Agency--which distributes welfare payments, food stamps and Medi-Cal benefits to the poor--was flooded with phone calls from people who feared their aid would be cut off immediately, as the new law mandates. But agency workers had little concrete information to offer.

"We've checked with the state and they told us they've had staff working on policy changes and will issue guidelines soon. Until they do, we will follow existing policies," said Larry Leaman, the county's director of social services.

Medical officials, too, said they were holding off on enforcing the initiative, which denies non-emergency health care, social services and public education to illegal immigrants. It was overwhelmingly approved by voters Tuesday.

"As far as we are concerned it's business as usual," said Len Foster, the county's deputy director of public health, who spent most of Wednesday at the 17th Street clinic in Santa Ana. "We are continuing to provide services to all comers, as we did yesterday."

School administrators in areas with the highest immigrant populations reported no dips in attendance Wednesday. Officials scrambled to combat jitters over the passage of the initiative by sending letters to parents promising that teachers would not report students to immigration officials.

Some school officials took to their public address systems or organized schoolwide assemblies where students vented their feelings, emphasizing that regardless of court action, the school provisions of the initiative are not slated to take effect until Jan. 1.

"School has, and will be, a place where you'll get an education. We are not the Immigration and Naturalization Service," La Quinta High School Principal Mitch Thomas said over the PA system, as students rushed to class before the late bell Wednesday morning. "We are educators. Continue to come to school."

At the county's largest district, Santa Ana Unified, interim superintendent Don Champlin said: "We're not making any changes in anything we're doing."

"Keep your children in our schools," Santa Ana's school board told parents in a statement approved during an election night meeting and distributed throughout the district Wednesday. "This has been an emotional, divisive issue that has confused many people. We now need to put those feelings aside and keep children in the secure, nurturing environment of our schools."

Meanwhile, police on tactical alert for civil disturbances, including officers patrolling Santa Ana streets on horseback in case demonstrations became unruly, found little to do Wednesday.

High school and college students staged a handful of small rallies around the county, but most drew just a few dozen people, in contrast to the hundreds who walked out of classes in the days before the election.

"Orange County voted overwhelmingly for 187, but we want to show that in Orange County there is opposition," said David Rojas, 22, who helped organize a noontime rally at the Civic Center in Santa Ana that drew about 50 people. "The struggle is going to continue, not just in the courts--that's going to be one front--but also in the streets and in the schools."

Day laborers who gather alongside Laguna Canyon Road each day seeking jobs said their ranks were thinned Wednesday by the passage of Proposition 187.

"It's scary now," said one Santa Ana resident who has been here for five years without a green card. Determined to stay in the United States, the man said he is worried about getting medical care for his wife, who is six months pregnant, and his children.

"I want to stay here. I don't want to go back to Mexico," he said. "It is nice here. I love America."

At schools throughout Orange County, Latino students lamented the measure's passage.

"The pledge of allegiance ends with the words 'with liberty and justice for all.' It doesn't say 'with liberty and justice for white people,' " 14-year-old Wendi Larsen said during a lunchtime discussion at Saddleback High in Santa Ana.

Latino students at Golden West College who met before classes Wednesday said they will work with larger Latino groups to fight the measure in court and to get legal immigrants more involved in the political process.

At a lunchtime discussion involving about 40 students and staff, Rancho Santiago College student Patty Ceja, 18, said, "It's hard to know what the future will bring. Is everyone going to get kicked out of school? What's going to happen?"

School and college officials said nothing drastic is likely to happen--at least for a while.

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