When Angela Guerrero emigrated from Colombia to the United States in 1969, she was given the same freedom and privileges as any American. But little did the then 9-year-old girl know that 25 years later she might have to renounce citizenship in her native country to keep these privileges.
"I love Colombia and I love America. It's like having two mothers. How can I be expected to choose one or the other?" Guerrero said.
Guerrero joined a crowd of 150 community members and Latino activists Tuesday night at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church in Canoga Park to hear a panel discussion about Proposition 187, the ballot initiative aimed at curbing illegal immigration. If approved, it would deny publicly funded benefits, such as health care and education, to those who cannot prove United States citizenship.
Called the "Save Our State" initiative by its proponents, Proposition 187 would also require teachers, police, health-care workers and other individuals in public service positions to report those suspected of being illegal immigrants.
"We must ask ourselves if this measure will be truly beneficial to society or if it will merely impose punitive measures against those who have little political power," said panelist Effie Clark, of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Clark said the initiative would promote fear and suspicion between doctors and patients, teachers and students, social service workers and clients and law enforcement officers and the public.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, another panelist, said that as a law enforcement officer, he is greatly concerned about illegal immigration. But, he said, he opposes Proposition 187.
"It will deny thousands of kids the right to attend school, and put them out on the streets where they will be more vulnerable to turn to crime," Block said.
"Children won't be inoculated against disease. This initiative is not the way to approach the problem of illegal immigration. It will create a range of problems that will become even greater in the future."
Panelist Eleanor Leo, senior legislative analyst with the Los Angeles Unified School District, said the initiative violates the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibits the release of information about public school students except in limited circumstances.
"Federal funds are denied to schools that violate this act," Leo said. If the initiative passes, she said, California could lose $2.3 billion dollars for elementary and secondary schools and $1 billion for colleges and universities.
Mary Manson, a 25-year Woodland Hills resident, was one of a handful of Proposition 187 supporters at the meeting. She said the measure does not deny illegal immigrants the right to an education, but rather forces them to pay for it themselves through the private school system.
"These people are making a decision on an initiative they aren't even completely familiar with," said Manson.
Hannah Silvey, a California native and Encino resident, said she's "mad as hell" that Tuesday's panelists voiced only opposition to Proposition 187.
"I came to this meeting because I have an open mind and I wanted to hear both sides of the issue before making my decision," Silvey said. "But there was not one panelist in favor of the proposition. They didn't even let . . . people hear both sides so they can make up their own minds about the issue. Shame on them."