Two former top immigration officials and former Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum are pushing separate initiatives aimed at cutting public aid to illegal immigrants for health care and public schooling.
Alan Nelson, Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner under President Ronald Reagan, and Harold Ezell, INS chief for the western states from 1983 to 1989, are backing an initiative that seeks to bar children who are here illegally from attending public schools.
Schabarum’s measure, which is still being drafted, would cut most publicly financed emergency medical care provided to illegal immigrants and require Californians to carry identification cards attesting to their legal residency, according to an outline of the measure he sent to potential donors. Schabarum could not be reached for comment.
Together, the proposals would deny practically all benefits to illegal immigrants. While Schabarum’s measure mirrors ideas offered by conservative elected officials to reduce illegal immigration, the Nelson-Ezell measure is among the most extreme proposals put forth so far in the debate over illegal immigration.
The Nelson-Ezell proposal calls for the state’s education and social service agencies to report those suspected of being here illegally. School officials, for example, would be required to report parents they suspect are in the country illegally--even if their children were born in the United States and are citizens.
Ezell acknowledged that the public school provisions are explosive, saying: “This will be the hallmark of our initiative because it will cause the most amount of stir among the open-border folks, and it will also save the greatest number of dollars.”
Schabarum and Ezell are hoping to qualify their initiatives for the general election ballot next November. Ezell said that he and Schabarum could merge their efforts into a single initiative. Each must present the signatures of 385,000 registered voters to the secretary of state by June to get the measures on the November ballot.
If they make it, the measures would place the volatile issue in the middle of a major state election, with races for governor and other state constitutional offices, all seats in the Assembly and half the seats in the Senate also on the ballot.
“The issue of 1994 is going to be illegal immigration,” Ezell said in an interview. “We are basically sinking as a state. Something has to change.”
The two proposed initiatives have garnered support from some Republican elected officials and from others capable of raising the money needed to place the measures on the ballot.
The Nelson-Ezell measure was filed with the state attorney general this week, an initial step before getting petitions on the streets for signature gathering. Schabarum expects to have his initiative ready for the attorney general soon.
Assemblyman Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles), after reading the proposals, denounced them as a “Gestapo approach,” adding that they are “aimed at kids and aimed at women.” Polanco, chairman of the Legislature’s Latino Caucus, vowed to fight the measures “tooth and nail.”
“These guys want to bring back Nazism aimed at Latinos. We will not stand for it,” Polanco said. “The people of the state of California are going to see through it. Evil never prevails. In the final analysis, the good will of people prevails.”
Dan Schnur, Gov. Pete Wilson’s communications director, said the governor was unaware of the measures. Wilson intends to pursue his own package of bills in the next year designed to cut down on illegal immigration, and will press for federal help to pay costs of dealing with illegal and legal immigrants.
Supporters of the Schabarum initiative held a fund-raiser in Los Angeles on Nov. 4, and Schabarum has issued a letter to donors seeking funds and decrying the cost of illegal immigrants.
“Only Congress can close the border. But we can rewrite the laws to stop paying for the $3 billion in (state) services we pay every year,” Schabarum said in the mail pitch for donations for his “Economic Sanctions” campaign.
Some of the laws responsible for that $3-billion tab, however, are beyond the state’s reach. A state ballot initiative, for instance, could not change the federal law requiring California to reimburse hospitals for the cost of illegal immigrants’ emergency care. Schabarum, a Los Angeles County supervisor from 1972 to 1991, has a successful initiative track record, taking leading roles in initiatives to limit terms of state legislators and members of Congress in 1990 and 1992.
Ezell and Nelson are working with Robert Kiley, an Orange County political consultant and Republican activist. Their campaign organization, called Save Our State, has support from a dozen groups trying to restrict immigration.
Their measure would require teachers and other public school employees, physicians at county hospitals, welfare workers and other government workers to pass along information to the state attorney general when they suspect that someone seeking or receiving services is an illegal immigrant. The attorney general would, in turn, inform the INS.
Illegal immigrants are not entitled to welfare or other social services. But their U.S.-born children are citizens and are entitled to benefits, such as welfare and Medi-Cal-funded health care.
Like Schabarum’s proposal, the Nelson-Ezell initiative would prohibit public funds for social services and medical care for illegal immigrants, except when it is a “matter of life and death.”
The Nelson-Ezell initiative seeks to eliminate prenatal medical care for pregnant women who are here illegally. If a woman appears at an emergency room in labor, Ezell said, the decision to treat her would be left to the doctor.
Although he acknowledged that his initiative would have no impact on federal law that grants citizenship to babies born in this country, Ezell said: “Surely, emergency care cannot be having a baby. That is a nine-month process.”
Current state law allows any pregnant poor woman to receive prenatal care at state expense, regardless of citizenship status, on the grounds that any infant born here is a U.S. citizen and that medical care during pregnancy helps ensure a healthy child.
However, the primary focus of the Nelson-Ezell measure is public schooling. It would require that, beginning in January, 1995, parents would have to show proof that newly enrolled children are legal residents. If they cannot provide the documentation within 45 days, the schools would give the parents 90 days notice to find another school. At the end of that time, public funds for the students’ schooling would be cut.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1982 held that public schools have to accept children, regardless of their immigration status. California schools do not currently inquire into children’s immigration status before enrolling them. Ezell said he expects that the initiative would set up a court challenge of that precedent.
Times staff writer Daniel M. Weintraub contributed to this report.