California's Prop. 187 Puts Illegal Immigrants on Edge

Measure to deny services to undocumented aliens stirs new tensions

AT the downtown office of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, hotline calls have multiplied from 100 per week to 150 per day.

The calls reflect uncertainty among California's huge population of undocumented aliens in the wake of passage of Proposition 187 on Nov. 8.

Up and down the state, the voter-approved measure that restricts illegal immigrants from public services is raising questions about what its impact might be, even though for now its implementation is stalled in the courts.

Two weeks after its passage by an overwhelming margin, the measure denying illegals education and nonemergency hospital care continues to roil the politics of the nation's largest state, stirring demonstrations, prompting boycott-California threats by some foreign and US groups, and, in some cases, creating tension between citizens and suspected illegal immigrants.

For example:

* In a Santa Paula restaurant, an Hispanic cook reports he is threatened with citizen's arrest by an Anglo customer unless he produces a green card.

* In the Bell Garden section of Los Angeles, an elementary school teacher assigns students to write semester essays about their parent's immigration status.

* In Palm Springs, a pharmacist refuses to fill a prescription for a regular customer because he could not produce on-the-spot evidence of citizenship.

``The reign of terror has begun against lawful and unlawful immigrants alike,'' says Lucas Guttentag, director of the Immigrant Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. ``The racial climate is under siege.''

Hate crimes have increased from laundromats to grocery stores - from name-calling at corner gas pumps to dirt clods thrown at a Woodland Hills nanny leaving work.

``It's just what proponents said wouldn't happen and opponents said would,'' says Bobbi Murray, spokeswoman for CHIRLA, the multi-ethnic umbrella organization of community, government, academic, and legal bodies formed in response to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. ``People are taking matters into their own hands whether they are based in law or not and the results are divisive and ugly.''

Pro-187 forces say such stories are either overblown or untrue.

``We saw more slanders, libels, and outright lies in their smear campaign to defeat 187 that it's hard to believe anything they say,'' says Ron Prince, director of Save Our State, the organization that initiated Proposition 187.

But Yolanda Arias, senior attorney in the East Los Angeles branch of the Legal Aid Foundation, has intervened in several of the cases. She says, in many instances, those accused of wrongdoing deny complaints against them, but that many pan out.

A temporary restraining order issued last week by a federal judge in Los Angeles enjoins most portions of the sweeping measure until beginning legal arguments are heard in coming days. Seven other challenges have been filed before state and federal magistrates.

Meanwhile, raucous public gatherings continue, from a sit-in staged at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) by a Hispanic student group to a 300-strong gathering of Voice of Citizens Together (VCT), a Sherman Oaks-based group that opposes illegal immigration.

``This is the battle for California,'' says VCT president Glenn Spencer. ``You have 70,000 Hispanics marching the Mexican flag through downtown ... how much evidence do you need?''

His group and several others last week launched a recall campaign against Los Angeles Board of Education President Mark Slavkin for his role in the board's decision to join a state court lawsuit filed in San Francisco challenging Prop. 187.

At the same time, Los Angeles City Attorney James Hahn filed a motion to join a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Prop. 187 ``will result in a tremendous financial and administrative burden to the city,'' the motion said. ``Perhaps the most detrimental effect will be the breakdown of the public-services system, since city workers will be required to verify the legal status of [nearly all] applicants.''

But Harold Ezell, co-author of Prop. 187, says Hahn's motion continues the city's lenient attitude toward illegals, which has contributed to its financial woes.

A status hearing is scheduled for the ACLU-sponsored lawsuit in Los Angeles Federal District Court this Wednesday.

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