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'Jamiel's Law' misses ballot

Officials say backers failed to gather enough voter signatures.

December 12, 2008|Phil Willon | Willon is a Times staff writer.

Proponents of a Los Angeles voter initiative to allow city police to arrest illegal-immigrant gang members just for being in the country illegally failed to gather enough voter signatures to qualify for the May ballot, elections officials said Thursday.

Supporters estimated they had turned in more than 76,000 petition signatures before Friday's deadline, but elections officials said they tallied only 18,559 -- far short of the 73,963 signatures required.

"Jamiel's Law" is named after 17-year-old Los Angeles High School football player Jamiel Shaw II, who was gunned down in March, allegedly by a reputed gang member who was in the country illegally. The measure would modify the Los Angeles Police Department's Special Order 40, which prohibits officers from initiating contact with people for the sole purpose of determining whether they are illegal immigrants.

"We're not going to stop," said Althea Shaw, 47, Jamiel's aunt and a major organizer for the ballot measure. "We can't bring my nephew back, so we're going to keep fighting. We have to."

Shaw said supporters would try to gather enough signatures to place the measure on Los Angeles County's November ballot and, possibly, mount a campaign to expand it statewide with a voter initiative in California's 2010 election.

Shaw said she couldn't explain how the campaign's estimate could have been so far off, and wondered whether the city purposely undercounted the petition signatures that were submitted. She said that many city leaders, including Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, strongly opposed Jamiel's Law.

"There's no one watching the city," Shaw said. "We're forced to take the word from a city that doesn't even want to talk about illegal immigration."

Attorney Walter Moore, a mayoral candidate who authored Jamiel's Law, said he would urge the City Council to place the measure on the ballot.

City elections officials said that proponents of Jamiel's Law had turned in 480 petitions by Friday's deadline and that each petition has slots for 110 voter signatures. Many of the signature slots of the petition pages were empty, said Jinny Pak of the City Clerk's office, and elections workers counted only 18,559 signatures.

Because the number of signatures had fallen so short of the minimum required, election workers did not attempt to verify that they were valid. All valid signatures on petitions for city initiatives must be from registered voters who reside in Los Angeles.

Bratton and immigrant rights advocates have strongly opposed Jamiel's Law, saying it is unnecessary and could lead to racial profiling by law enforcement officials. Bratton, when testifying before the Council in April, said officers already had the authority to report known gang members who committed crimes to federal immigration authorities.

Supporters of the measure said that the proposal is focused solely on gang members who have been documented as such by law enforcement agencies, and that it would allow them to be arrested, prosecuted and deported just for being illegal immigrants.

Pedro Espinoza awaits trial on a murder charge in the Jamiel Shaw case.

In Bratton's April testimony to the Council, he said his agency's policies regarding illegal immigrants had no connection to Shaw's death. Espinoza had been arrested in Culver City, and the day before the killing was released from Los Angeles County Jail, which is run by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.

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phil.willon@latimes.com

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