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Davis Won't Appeal Prop. 187 Ruling, Ending Court Battles

Litigation: Governor's deal with civil rights groups effectively kills 1994 anti-illegal immigrant measure. Accord is likely to ignite further controversy.

July 29, 1999|PATRICK J. McDONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Attorneys for Gov. Gray Davis and civil rights organizations have reached an agreement to end the litigation surrounding Proposition 187, effectively killing the landmark 1994 ballot referendum that targeted illegal immigrants and became a pivotal juncture in California's political life.

Davis has agreed not to appeal an earlier federal court ruling that held much of the initiative to be unconstitutional. The agreement, which is expected to be filed today with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, almost certainly will prevent the case from going to the U.S. Supreme Court, said lawyers on both sides of the case.

Proposition 187, approved by nearly 60% of California voters, became a national symbol of anger about illegal immigration. Court battles, however, blocked most of its provisions from being enforced.

The deal seems sure to ignite additional controversy, since it permanently bars the enactment of the ballot measure's core provisions--those preventing illegal immigrants from attending public schools and receiving social services and subsidized health care, according to the lawyers.

Also voided are requirements that local law enforcement authorities, school administrators and social and medical workers turn in suspected illegal immigrants to federal and state authorities.

All that will remain of Proposition 187 under the agreement are two relatively minor laws that establish state criminal penalties for the manufacture and use of false documents to conceal illegal immigration status.

The agreement, in essence, preserves a decision handed down last year by U.S. District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer in Los Angeles, lawyers familiar with the case said. Pfaelzer found that Proposition 187 was unconstitutional because it conflicted with federal authority in immigration law.

Under the agreement, both sides will drop appeals now pending before the 9th Circuit appellate court. The case will then be sent back to Pfaelzer, who will accept comments from opponents and proponents before giving final approval.

The agreement notes that the state is free to enforce any restrictions that have been adopted under other federal laws, such as the 1996 welfare overhaul. For example, Congress that year made illegal immigrants ineligible for most nonemergency public aid--a key component of Proposition 187.

Representatives of both sides, speaking under terms of anonymity, said they expect that Pfaelzer will approve the agreement, because it mirrors her ruling. The deal also is expected to lead to the dismissal of two state court cases challenging the right of illegal immigrants to attend public schools.

Confidentiality terms of the court-sponsored mediation that yielded the final deal made participants reluctant to speak publicly.

"I think that all fair-minded people will be satisfied with the announcement," said Peter A. Schey, attorney for the plaintiffs in one of five cases that successfully challenged Proposition 187 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Gov. Davis and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante declined comment. Davis is expected to address the agreement during a visit to Los Angeles today.

The Democratic governor, who opposed Proposition 187, inherited the case from his Republican predecessor. Former Gov. Pete Wilson had championed the ballot measure to score a come-from-behind reelection victory in 1994.

The initiative inadvertently triggered the political awakening of many Latinos who saw themselves, regardless of their citizenship status, as being targets. In Los Angeles, with its emerging Latino majority, Proposition 187 inspired one of the largest protest demonstrations ever--activism that eventually translated into growing Latino political participation.

Waging the battle against Proposition 187 was an alliance of Los Angeles-based civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, headed by Schey.

It is unclear what legal recourse is left for the backers of Proposition 187, who were blocked by federal courts from joining the state's case. One possibility, lawyers said, is that supporters now may seek a new court challenge to attack the agreement.

"Realistically, it depends on the nature of the agreement and what the 9th Circuit wants to do about it," said John H. Findley of the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento, a conservative legal group representing some of the sponsors of Proposition 187.

Supporters of Proposition 187 blasted the agreement.

"Davis sold his soul for the Hispanic vote, and now he's paying off," said Glenn Spencer, president of Voice of Citizens Together, a San Fernando Valley-based group. "If he hadn't done this they would have lynched him. . . . The governor and the rest of these people are afraid to send this to the Supreme Court."

Massive Immigration

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