The Dirty Secret Behind Proposition 187 : If Wilson was serious about illegal immigration, he'd put muscle behind the labor laws.

Robert Scheer is a former Times national correspondent.

Where are the people who know better?

Can it be that the governor of this state and other respectable people favor a plan of segregation far more onerous than that which existed under George Wallace in Alabama? How can they support Proposition 187, which would leave in our midst an untouchable subclass of deeply exploited workers who labor as hard as any of us, yet who are to be denied the barest means to better their condition? What a grotesque standard now championed by the highest officeholder of this once progressive and generous state, built on the backs of immigrant labor.

How dare we deny education to the children of women who clean our homes and raise our children?

How dare we deny medical care to those who harvest our crops, clip our lawns and golf courses, bus our dishes, wash our cars and every night leave spotless the very office towers whose top executives support the governor behind this mean proposal?

What have we come to when a majority of our citizens want to take children and their dreams hostage in a crude scheme to uproot their parents? If the goal of Proposition 187 is to force deportation, then it would be far more honest to simply round up these people and dump them over the borders of Mexico, Guatemala, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Canada and the many other countries they come from.

But deportation is not really the goal. The dirty secret in all this is that most Californians benefit from the exploitation of immigrant labor. Only two days ago, The Times quoted Harry Kubo, a Republican who heads the Nisei Farmers League in the San Joaquin Valley, warning that "50%, if not more, of the agricultural work force in this valley is illegal. We'd sink economically without them."

Then there are the professional couples who can hold down top jobs only because an underpaid nanny is holding down the household. Do they care about what happens to the nanny's own children if Proposition 187 passes?

We all know that virtually every restaurant, most construction sites and much of the manufacturing sector is staffed by undocumented workers. Victoria Bradshaw, the state labor commissioner, estimates that more than 80% of the workers in Los Angeles' thriving garment industry are illegal.

But there is not one word in Proposition 187 about employment of undocumented workers or increased fines or jail time for employers who violate existing laws on minimum wage, overtime pay, workers' compensation and safety standards.

Level the playing field between undocumented and legal workers and, if jobs still exist for those here illegally, they should have their status revised because they are needed. Ironically, the one program that attempts this was started by the Wilson Administration, but it has been starved for funds. The Targeted Industrial Program Partnership is a brilliantly executed plan dreamed up by Bradshaw and one of her deputies, Jose Millan.

TIPP teams up inspectors from state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, Cal OSHA and the federal Labor Department who attempt to enforce state and federal labor, health and safety laws in the garment industry and agriculture. They conducted raids this week in Los Angeles, levying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and carting off goods from cited firms. But TIPP's cases will hold up in court only if the workers testify about their pay and work conditions. That is why the TIPP inspectors pointedly announce upon entering a workplace that they are not from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, lest potential witnesses flee. Passage of Proposition 187 would subvert this program by forcing state labor officials to report undocumented witnesses to the INS.

The governor can't be serious about stopping illegal immigration. If he were, he would see to it that TIPP had enough money to field more than the 30 inspectors who are expected to enforce labor law throughout the entire state. And he would stop casting immigrant workers, rather than employers, as the villain of the piece.

I refuse to debate the fine points of Proposition 187 because it is demeaning. When I went on freedom rides to the South in the '60s, I did not care to dwell on the fine points of Mississippi's system of segregation as compared with Alabama's. I just knew in every fiber of my being that segregation was wrong, that it rots our souls to have a class of people live among us who are denied their essential humanity. Surely the courts will once again determine that segregation is unconstitutional. But isn't it sad that some of the people we put in high office don't already know that?

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