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Late Vote Revives Immigration Issue in Monterey Park

Times Staff Writer

Accusing the City Council of an attack on immigrants, the Coalition for Harmony in Monterey Park will urge the council Monday night to rescind a resolution that asks for national legislation to make English the official language and calls for tougher enforcement of immigration laws.

Coalition spokesman Michael Eng, an attorney, said that the resolution adopted at the end of a council meeting that concluded at 1 a.m. Tuesday will “promote racial disharmony and is designed to scapegoat immigrants for the problems perceived in Monterey Park.”

The coalition, formed last year to defeat a proposed initiative to declare English the city’s official language, is composed of 70 people of various ethnic backgrounds who share a concern for racial harmony, Eng said. He said the group will hold a press conference and picket City Hall before the council meeting at 7:30 p.m.

The resolution denounces the efforts of the sanctuary movement to provide a haven for political refugees from Central America, instructs the Police Department to cooperate with the U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and urges Congress to “pass legislation to control United States borders and to remove aliens who are residing in the United States illegally.”

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Timing ‘a Mockery’

Eng said the council’s passage of the resolution after midnight without notice “is a mockery of due process.” Even if residents had known the issue was coming up at that hour, he said, “only those with insomnia would have been able to testify.”

Councilman Barry L. Hatch, who introduced the resolution, said there was no effort to hide the action from the public by taking up the issue after most of the audience had left.

He said the council vote would have been no different before a full house.

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“It didn’t matter if there would have been a million people there,” he said. “The votes (on the council) were there.” Hatch also denied that the resolution was an attack on immigrants or a reaction to the influx of newcomers, notably Asians, into Monterey Park. Instead, he said, his intent was to draw attention to a national issue, particularly the burden that is imposed on taxpayers by illegal immigration.

Cost and ‘Diseases’

“The lack of immigration controls is affecting all of our lives,” Hatch said, claiming that billions of tax dollars are being spent nationally to provide low-cost housing, medical care and other services for illegal aliens. He said illegal aliens take jobs from legal residents, forcing many to go on welfare. Although some studies have suggested that illegal immigrants provide more economic benefits to the country than they consume in governmental services, Hatch said he believes the tax burden is enormous.

In addition, he said, uncontrolled immigration is a menace to public health, allowing newcomers to bring new viruses into the country. “We’re getting diseases now we’ve never even heard of,” he said.

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“I feel for people in Mexico, Africa and Asia and will help them through aid, but we must not open our borders to the world,” Hatch said. Unless the influx of illegal immigration can be stopped, he said, “eventually we’re going to become a third-rate nation. We’re losing that which we have taken 200 years to build up.”

Hatch denied that his concern about immigration is racially motivated and said he has nothing against immigrants themselves. “If somebody is here legally, they have just as much right to be here as I do,” he said.

Mayor Opposed Resolution

Council members Pat Reichenberger and Cam Briglio voted with Hatch for the resolution; Mayor G. Monty Manibog voted against it and Councilman Chris Houseman abstained. Manibog and Houseman objected to the English-language provision, which they said is divisive in a community with a large immigrant population where many speak native languages other than English. City officials have estimated the population at 40% Asian, 37% Latino, 22% Anglo and 1% black.

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Manibog said the establishment of an official language could “create fear, insecurity and uncertainty among many of our new immigrants to Monterey Park” and might even mislead some into thinking that they can “speak their own language only in a whisper.”

Manibog said he would have opposed a part of the resolution that directs the Police Department to cooperate with the Immigration and Naturalization Service “if this meant we were going to turn our police into INS agents.”

“The police have never enforced immigration laws--that’s not their job,” he said. But, he said, asking police to cooperate with federal authorities does not require the department to do any more than it has always done.

Houseman’s One Objection

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Houseman, elected in April, said he saw nothing wrong with the resolution, aside from the English-language provision. The remainder, he said, merely restates what is already required by the Constitution or law.

Police Chief Jon Elder said police always have cooperated with federal agencies and “we will continue to do so.”

He said police have no authority to make arrests for immigration violations but will notify federal authorities if they arrest a person on other charges and believe that he is in this country illegally. In addition, Elder said, police routinely stand by if authorities are raiding a factory suspected of harboring illegal aliens. Elder said there have been no recent raids in Monterey Park.

Hatch said he did not intend to change police policy, but only to reiterate the city’s intention to cooperate at a time when a few cities have declared themselves sanctuaries for refugees and have discouraged police cooperation in immigration matters.

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Future Enforcement?

But Eng said the Coalition for Racial Harmony fears that the language of the resolution could be used by city officials in the future to assume enforcement powers in immigration matters.

“The last thing the Police Department needs is the extra responsibility of enforcing federal immigration laws,” he said.

Eng said he believes it is presumptuous of the City Council, the majority of which has been in office less than 60 days, to claim to speak for residents on such matters as declaring English the official language when the majority opinion is not known.

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He said the council was given a mandate in the April municipal election to deal with overcrowding, unpopular development and traffic congestion but that deporting immigrants will not solve those problems.

National Problems

Hatch said the resolution was largely directed at Congress because the problems it addresses are national, rather than local. Even the English-language issue, which Hatch helped raise as a local issue last year, is now a matter that should be handled nationally, he said.

Hatch and his former political ally, Frank Arcuri, sponsored an initiative petition campaign last year to put the language issue on the municipal election ballot, but a legal defect prevented a vote even though more than 3,000 residents signed the petition.

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The English-language initiative aroused a storm of protest, especially from leaders of the Asian and Latino communities, who said it exploited racial and ethnic fears. The City Council’s refusal to put the initiative on the ballot because of a legal defect was upheld in Superior Court.


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