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Parts of Prop. 187 Blocked by Judge : Immigration: Temporary order targets medical, educational and social services. Jurist says measure may conflict with federal laws and U.S. Constitution.

November 17, 1994|PAUL FELDMAN and JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Saying that portions of Proposition 187 may conflict with federal statutes and the U.S. Constitution, a federal district judge in Los Angeles issued a temporary restraining order Wednesday blocking immediate enforcement of the sweeping initiative's bans on non-emergency medical, educational and social services for illegal immigrants.

U.S. Dist. Judge Matthew Byrne Jr. also ordered a temporary halt to the initiative's requirement that police and government agencies report suspected illegal immigrants to the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service and the state attorney general's office.

The ballot measure, which was approved by an overwhelming 59%-41% margin in last week's state election, raises "serious questions" as to whether immigrants' constitutional right to due process would be impeded because the measure does not provide for hearings before or after people are denied government services, Byrne said at the conclusion of a dramatic two-hour hearing.

He also said that the get-tough ballot measure's bans on health and social services may conflict with federal laws that specify who is eligible for such services.

Byrne, who set another hearing before U.S. District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer for Tuesday, left intact only the initiative's sections increasing state penalties for the sale and use of fraudulent citizenship documents.

At next week's status conference hearing, Pfaelzer will finalize the date for a hearing on requests by Proposition 187 foes for a preliminary injunction, designed to block implementation of the initiative until its legality is determined in extended court hearings.

Byrne's ruling will block implementation of the law for only a few days--and will have little direct impact because most portions of the initiative were not due to take effect until state agencies finished preparing enforcement regulations in coming weeks. Nevertheless, it was hailed by Proposition 187 opponents as a major victory and by state Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren as a disappointment.

"This is a terrific day for California," said Mark D. Rosenbaum, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which along with several other civil rights groups filed one of four lawsuits against the initiative that Byrne heard jointly Wednesday. "There's a long fight in front of us, but we couldn't be starting any better--they're on the ropes already."

"While the issuance of a temporary restraining order is not entirely unexpected, it is disappointing," Lungren said later. "By delaying the state's mandate to implement this new law, the court is also denying the will of California voters who specifically rejected the status quo on Nov. 8.

"Nevertheless, my office will continue to press for a resolution as quickly as possible so that the law can be enforced."

Ron Prince, the Tustin accountant who headed the pro-187 campaign committee, said the performance of Lungren's lawyers in court made him wonder if they were adequately prepared.

"I'd have to question whether they've even read the initiative," said Prince, who viewed the proceedings in the packed Downtown Los Angeles courtroom. "(But) this isn't going to be on ice forever."

Yorba Linda political consultant Robert Kiley, who helped spearhead the 187 campaign, said, "I'm angry. This is a mandate and we are dealing with liberal judges appointed by previous administrations. Their job is to interpret the law, not thwart the will of the people."

Harold Ezell, a former INS commissioner who co-authored the initiative, agreed.

"It's the typical thing," said the Newport Beach businessman. "They found a liberal judge and then they got him to buy into their stuff."

Both men said they regarded Wednesday's court action as only a temporary setback. Eventually, they maintained, the judicial system will validate the initiative.

"From day one, we knew to win this thing we'd probably have to go all the way to the Supreme Court," Ezell said. "The bottom line is that we'll prevail because it's right."

In contrast, Orange County health officials were delighted by Wednesday's ruling.

"I am enormously relieved on behalf of all the families we serve," said Margot Hughes-Lopez, executive director of the nonprofit South County Community Clinic in San Juan Capistrano, where the patient population is about 60% Latino. "The only question we have to ask when they come in the door is, 'How may we help you?' "

The clinic, like many others in the county, depends in part on state and county funding and "cannot violate the laws," Hughes-Lopez said. The judge's order "allows us to continue to deliver services as we always have."

Hughes-Lopez said the number of patients seeking care at her clinic and others in the county has dropped since the initiative passed, possibly because people fear being questioned about their immigration status. She hopes the judge's ruling will quell those fears.

"We probably are going to see people a little less frightened to come in," she said.

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