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L.A. Joins Challenge to Prop. 187 : Immigration: Legal move comes amid debate over getting involved when many are calling for immediate enforcement. City attorney defends action as necessary.

November 18, 1994|PAUL FELDMAN and HENRY CHU | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The city of Los Angeles jumped into the legal fray over Proposition 187 on Thursday, with City Atty. James K. Hahn filing court papers to join in a federal lawsuit seeking to toss out the anti-illegal immigration ballot measure.

The move came amid continuing debate on the City Council about whether the city should get involved in court action over the initiative, particularly when many constituents are clamoring for its immediate enforcement. Hahn's office said Thursday that the action was necessary to clarify the city's responsibilities under the measure, which was approved by state voters last week by a 59%-41% margin.

Meanwhile, sponsors of the initiative said they were neither surprised nor dismayed by Wednesday's issuance of a temporary restraining order by a federal judge in Los Angeles covering most portions of the sweeping measure. They added, however, that many grass-roots supporters have their phones ringing off the hooks, expressing outrage that Proposition 187 has not taken effect immediately.

"People are really offended that their vote, their will and their voice doesn't mean anything--that the court can just tell them to stuff a sock in their mouth and tell them to shut up," said Harold Ezell, a co-author of the measure and a former federal immigration official. "But people should not be surprised or discouraged.

"You have to go through all of this exercise of going through the courts. They did it with Proposition 13, they did it with Proposition 103. . . . It's just part of the system."

The legal filings by government agencies, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, have resulted in a strong backlash from voters. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors backed away from undertaking a similar suit and proponents of the ballot measure announced plans for a recall drive against Los Angeles school board President Mark Slavkin.

In Sherman Oaks on Thursday night, more than 350 people packed the auditorium of Riverside Drive Elementary School to call for removal of public officials who use their official powers to mount taxpayer-funded attacks on Proposition 187.

The crowd, protesting what one speaker called "the invasion of the United States," loudly applauded speakers who called for the ouster of Los Angeles school board members and City Council representatives.

Glenn Spencer of the Valley-based Voice of Citizens Together pledged to rewrite the three "Rs" for the Los Angeles Unified School District, which he accused of "harboring criminals."

"Instead of reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic, it will be recall, remove and replace," Spencer said.

Spencer's group announced plans Wednesday to launch a petition drive to oust Slavkin, who represents the west San Fernando Valley.

Pat Cook of Woodland Hills listed for the crowd the names of current school board members and the margins by which they won election. "It's very easy to replace these people."

Bob Rosenberg of Woodland Hills said he is "indignant that the city officials are taking our tax money to fight something we voted for. The audacity and the arrogance of these people--elitists telling us what to do."

Rosenberg and others said they did not object to private groups challenging the ballot measure, but said taxpayer money should not be used in that way.

Ron Prince, the head of the campaign for Proposition 187, told the group that the ballot initiative has sent a clear message to both state and federal officials, especially President Clinton. "We're not going to allow them to overturn the will of the people."

Although the crowd was almost all white, two African American speakers received loud applause. One was Terry Anderson from South-Central Los Angeles, who received the biggest ovation of the evening when he accused Mexican illegal immigrants of stealing jobs away from "the black man."

Since voters approved the get-tough initiative, eight lawsuits have been filed to overturn it in state and federal courts from Sacramento to Los Angeles.

Last week, the Los Angeles City Council also voted to take legal action in an effort to overturn the ballot measure. But Wednesday, several council members began an effort to retract the vote and to instead simply ask the courts to clarify how the ballot measure should be applied by city departments.

The city's latest action puts it on the side of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California and other civil rights groups that are attempting to overturn the initiative.

In his legal papers seeking to join the case as an intervenor, Hahn blasted the initiative in no uncertain terms, saying it is "vague, over-broad and may result in thousands of persons suffering violations of their constitutional right against discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity."

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