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Wilson Helped Foster Illegal Influx, Reno Says

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Gov. Pete Wilson “fostered some of the illegal immigration that we’re trying to deal with” when he was in the Senate, Atty. Gen. Janet Reno said Thursday, suggesting that the California governor is responsible for some of the problems he blames on the Clinton Administration.

Reno, however, said in her weekly meeting with reporters that she wants to avoid “a fussing match” with Wilson, who has made criticism of Administration border policies a major element in his reelection campaign.

Later, in an interview, Reno questioned the wisdom of Proposition 187, which would bar illegal immigrant children from California schools. But she noted that the Administration has not taken a stand on the measure.

“Oftentimes, it is the failure to educate, the failure to provide support that causes” crime, Reno said when asked her view of the initiative as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and as an official who has demonstrated a particular interest in children.

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While noting that the Justice Department has not done a legal analysis of Proposition 187, Reno said: “I think we must address the issue of what happens to young people who are here, who are not educated, who are not provided with the essentials that enable them to grow in a safe, positive and law-abiding way.”

Reno’s comments on Wilson came when a reporter asked if she was getting fed up with Wilson’s increasingly heated attacks on the Administration’s immigration policy.

“No, I never get fed up with people. . . ,” Reno began. “It’s very, very important that we understand that Gov. Wilson and others, during their times in the Senate,” occasionally opposed efforts to control illegal immigration.

Pressed for an example, Reno said: “In a number of instances, if you review the record of officials in California and in representing California, they have in prior years been concerned about agricultural interests and others who are reluctant to have enforcement, or were reluctant to have INS be as effective as it might in enforcing against illegal immigration.” Wilson, in a statement from Sacramento, said Reno’s comments were “a shameful attempt to turn the spotlight away from the Clinton Administration’s total failure to secure our border.”

He said that while he was a senator, he sponsored an amendment to allow guest workers into the United States for limited periods. To ensure their return to their home countries, he said, the proposal would have withheld a portion of their wages, which they could receive only in their own countries. But the amendment never became law, Wilson said.

Noting that Wilson has written Reno three times in 10 days on the immigration issue, a Justice Department official said that the governor “is clearly attempting to engage the attorney general in debate. We will respond proportionately simply by citing his record if he attempts to escalate the debate further.”

In a related development, INS Commissioner Doris Meissner said that the Administration will close its San Clemente checkpoint on Interstate 5 on Saturday as part of a five-month test to assess whether the redeployment of border agents from secondary, inland positions to the California-Mexico border will staunch the flow of illegal crossings.

Named Operation Gatekeeper, the plan, among other things, calls for temporarily reallocating 93 agents from the highway checkpoint to patrols along the San Diego border area.

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At a news conference at INS headquarters, Meissner said that the test would provide information to see if more agents on the border will deter illegal entry or whether the inland checkpoints are still necessary.

“Both the attorney general and I have stated publicly that we are trying new tactics to bring illegal immigration under control,” Meissner said. “This San Clemente checkpoint test is an example of something we have not tried before.”

Under the INS plan, the San Clemente checkpoint, located about 60 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border along a main highway connecting the two countries, will be closed beginning Oct. 1 and reopened at some future time. When the agents return to the San Clemente checkpoint, INS officials will compare the impact the closing had on illegal crossings.

Before the current fiscal year, about 1,000 Border Patrol agents worked in the San Diego area. Next year, after the test is completed, INS officials expect the Border Patrol force there to total nearly 1,400 agents.

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In addition, Meissner said, the Border Patrol will begin fingerprinting all illegal immigrants apprehended in the San Diego area to help in the stepped-up effort to identify criminal immigrants.


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