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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.

Meanwhile, a backlash against public officials who have tried to block Proposition 187 in court gained steam Wednesday--forcing the Los Angeles City Council to reconsider its stand against the measure and leading a citizens group to launch a campaign to recall the president of the Los Angeles school board.

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, 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."

State Assistant Atty. Gen. Charlton Holland, one of two lawyers from the attorney general's office to speak during the court session, had no immediate reaction after the ruling. But Holland did tell the judge that his office stands ready to extend the temporary restraining order until mid-December to allow more time for legal briefs to be prepared.

Eight separate lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento to thwart implementation of Proposition 187 since its passage.

The morning after the election, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Stuart R. Pollak issued a temporary restraining order against the initiative's bans on public school, college and university enrollment for illegal immigrants, saying the strictures could not be put in place before further court hearings. The challenge to the school ban was brought by the Los Angeles and San Francisco Unified school districts and the California School Boards Assn.

Byrne's restraining order also covers the educational provisions of Proposition 187, based on lawsuits filed on behalf of schoolchildren by the Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law and attorneys Stephen Yagman and Fred Kumetz.

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