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Working Through a Most Difficult Time : How best to handle the Prop. 187 aftermath: very carefully

November 16, 1994

There is a time for partisan politics and there is a time for responsible government. Nowhere is this distinction more salient than with the volatile issue of illegal immigration. For if there ever was an appropriate time for harsh rhetoric --and The Times, which strongly opposed Proposition 187, doesn't think there ever was and doesn't think there ever should be--that time is past. Further polarization must be avoided.

Sure, the problem may seem simple enough to some politicians in Washington, 3,000 miles away from California's reality. Listen to Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), slated to become House Speaker: " . . . We need a system of being able to deport you that is very efficient and very fast and works." That's easy (if chilling and regrettable) for Gingrich to say, but to the thousands of hospital and school officials directly affected by last week's passage of 187, the reality is something else. Washington politicians must realize that California now faces a difficult and testing time. They should send less hot air and more federal money westward to help with the immigration problem.

RESULT OF NEGLECT: Gov. Pete Wilson, who was wrong to support 187, was never wrong to press Washington to take more responsibility for controlling our international borders, both north and south. That huge task includes blocking the many paths through which people enter illegally. For years The Times and many others have made the point that while federal immigration law put a phenomenal burden on the affected states to cope with immigration pressures, it did not provide the states with the resources to respond to those needs. The overwhelming passage of Proposition 187 was in part the result of that chronic neglect.

Passage was unfortunate but predictable. It now falls to the good people of California to make the best of the new situation, to respond to the requirements of 187 (in the event the courts do not strike them down) with humanity, with thoughtfulness, with caution. Credit those who already are urging restraint through avoidance of polarizing statements or premature enforcement action. For instance, it was reassuring to hear state Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren publicly reject the idea that school and hospital administrators are to be subject to police action by the state. And it was wise of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to avoid jumping into the legal fray, when there are already so many parties in the pool.

But then there are the other sorts of voices--people calling for the end-of-the-year deportation of tens of thousands of Salvadorans whose legal immigration status is scheduled to expire Dec. 31. Given the current atmosphere of uncertainty and anxiety, President Clinton should extend their legal status for at least a year.

GOVERNOR OF ALL: For his part Gov. Wilson must demonstrate that he understands the need to govern all the people. Why start out right after the election announcing an executive order focusing on pregnant women and the elderly? What he should want most of all is not this but the $3 billion from Washington he believes is needed to compensate the state for services to immigrants now financed by California taxpayers. Newt, can't you help?

We have a further suggestion for the governor. We calculate it has almost no chance of coming to pass, but we suggest it anyway because it would be the right thing to do and there's no harm trying. It would be nice if Gov. Wilson picked up the telephone and asked various community and civic leaders who most strenuously opposed Proposition 187 to meet with him to hear them out on the best way to move forward. What Wilson needs to recognize is that his stubborn position on 187 created bad feeling and that it's now his obligation to initiate the dialogue. It would be desirable for the governor to hear wise counsel from civic leaders in all walks of life. Let's not work at cross purposes. Instead, let's begin healing the divisiveness.

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