The battle over Proposition 187 shifted quickly from the ballot box to courtrooms, to government chambers and the streets Wednesday as Californians, in a resounding Election Day mandate, ushered in a new era of stern restrictions against illegal immigrants.
Acting immediately to implement the measure for which he so vigorously campaigned, newly reelected Gov. Pete Wilson issued a toughly worded executive order directing health care providers to discontinue prenatal services and new admissions to nursing homes for illegal immigrants.
“The people of California have passed Proposition 187, now we must enforce it,” said Wilson at a morning press conference at a Los Angeles hotel.
But critics of the controversial initiative had other plans, filing at least eight lawsuits in state and federal courts throughout California.
By midafternoon, a San Francisco Superior Court judge, acting on a lawsuit filed on behalf of the Los Angeles and San Francisco Unified School districts and the California School Boards Assn., temporarily barred enforcement of the proposition’s requirement that illegal immigrants be excluded from California public schools.
In a separate action, the judge extended the order to public colleges and universities.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, a federal district judge presiding over a legal challenge brought by civil rights groups ordered that he be notified of any “substantive” enforcement of the initiative prior to a court hearing he scheduled for next Wednesday. But spokesmen for Wilson and Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren said they would proceed in implementing the non-education portions of the initiative because the judge did not directly order them to halt such actions.
Among the rapid-fire developments Wednesday following the measure’s overwhelming passage by a 59%-41% margin:
* Orange County school administrators promised not to report children to immigration officials, urging parents to keep students in schools, while health and social services workers said they had no immediate plans for implementing the initiative. Small groups of high school and college students staged small rallies and discussions on campuses in Santa Ana and Fullerton, denouncing Wilson and the initiative and promising to get Latinos more involved in the political process. Local officials also pledged to join statewide lawsuits challenging Proposition 187.
* The Los Angeles City Council voted 10-3 to direct city employees not to enforce any provisions of the measure, except its crackdown on the sale and possession of fake identity documents, until legal challenges have been completed. The council also voted to pursue legal action to overturn the initiative, which bans illegal immigrants from government-funded non-emergency services and requires local officials to report those suspected of being illegal immigrants to state and federal authorities.
* Religious leaders and city officials urged residents to remain calm and called on parents to continue sending their children to school. “I urge all Angelenos to ignore rumors and to continue to express their opinions regarding this law in a peaceful manner,” said Mayor Richard Riordan.
* Clinton Administration officials said they would take no “precipitous” action to cut federal funding to California for health, education and social welfare programs, saying they would prefer to wait for the results of litigation aimed at thwarting the measure. Analysts have said that as much as $15 billion in annual federal funding is at risk because of certain of the initiative’s requirements.
* Several small anti-187 rallies took place, including evening demonstrations Downtown and at Cal State Los Angeles, where about 250 protesters appeared. About 20 of the campus demonstrators were arrested after staging a sit-in that disrupted the opening of a fine arts complex.
Gov. Wilson, who used illegal immigration as a central focus of his reelection campaign, moved quickly Wednesday to begin implementing the get-tough Proposition 187.
“Starting today, we insist that California be a state that can set its own priorities,” the governor announced at his dramatic morning press conference.
Unveiling a two-page executive order, Wilson declared that prenatal services for illegal immigrants would “be discontinued as soon as legally possible.”
The savings of about $84 million a year would be redirected to legal residents of California, the governor said. As a result, he said, about 1,000 additional working poor women could be served each month.
Wilson also directed that future admissions to long-term nursing home programs be granted only to legal residents. A spokeswoman later said the savings would amount to about $6 million a year since the state currently pays for relatively few illegal immigrants to live in nursing homes.
Although the ballot measure stated that illegal immigrants could no longer be served by publicly funded hospitals and health clinics, Wilson said he has the duty, as governor, to protect the health of the public. Therefore, he said, he will order all precautions be taken “to deal with any threat of communicable disease, whether through immunization or quarantine or other measures.”
Wilson also ordered a bevy of state agencies to draft emergency regulations to implement the ballot measure. In doing so, however, he took pains to say his Administration would not tolerate bigotry. The regulations, he said, would ensure “the rights of all legal residents are protected and the provisions of Proposition 187 are implemented in a manner that avoids discrimination on the basis of national origin.”
Finally, Wilson sent a letter to President Clinton, with whom he has repeatedly clashed over federal payments for immigration costs, asking for his “full cooperation and assistance” in implementing the initiative.
“I trust that you will agree that the people of California, having exercised their right as voters to enact Proposition 187, should not as a result suffer any loss of federal funds,” Wilson said.
As Wilson plunged forward, so did Atty. Gen. Lungren, who has begun distributing blank forms to local law enforcement departments and other agencies to be returned with the names of any suspected illegal immigrants.
“It’s obvious that major portions of Proposition 187 will be challenged in both state and federal courts,” Lungren declared in a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon. “The mere filing of these lawsuits should not be interpreted as an excuse to ignore the law.”
The high state officials’ sentiments were not universally shared.
In Los Angeles, the City Council voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to join in legal action to set aside Proposition 187 and directed its employees to continue providing services until the challenges are settled.
“I would like to remind us all that the distinguishing characteristic of a democracy is its protection of the rights of the minority,” Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, who wore a white armband reading “I’m an Illegal Alien,” told her colleagues.
The only dissent came from three San Fernando Valley council members, Joel Wachs, Hal Bernson and Laura Chick.
“I opposed 187 as a voter and as a council member,” said Chick. “But . . . we need to be very careful of how we govern.”
“I can’t participate in giving what I think is a misshapen message to the public. Part of the message is, ‘We are smarter than you are.’ ”
At an unusual gathering of Los Angeles city and county officials, in which leaders including Riordan and County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke called for calm, Police Chief Willie Williams indicated that his department had no intention of making any immediate any changes.
“There is no change in the policies and procedures and actions of the Los Angeles Police Department as of this morning,” the chief said.
At LAPD’s South Bureau, where officers handle nearly a murder a day, overworked detectives said they cannot even keep up with the growing roll of homicide victims, let alone begin asking arrestees for green cards.
“I don’t have enough detectives to check on my murders. So how am I going to keep track of that administrative lunacy?” asked Lt. Sergio Robleto, commander of the Bureau’s homicide detail.
In Washington, Clinton Administration officials, following a plan agreed on before Tuesday’s vote, said they would make no immediate decision on how to act.
“We’ll have to see where litigation takes us,” an Administration official said.
In state and federal courts in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento, a flurry of lawsuits--at least eight, according to the attorney general’s count--were filed within hours of Proposition 187’s passage.
By late Wednesday morning, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Stuart R. Pollak had issued the first temporary restraining order against the measure, saying that its educational bans could not be put in place before further hearings.
The ruling was hardly a surprise. Sponsors and opponents of Proposition 187 have long agreed that a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision that granted illegal immigrants the right to a free public education would have to be reconsidered before the initiative’s education ban could take effect. Pollak, in handing down his temporary restraining order early in the afternoon, cited that decision, Plyler vs. Doe.
“There are serious legal questions here, to say the least, that need to be resolved,” said Pollak, noting the Supreme Court ruling “seems to prohibit and invalidate at least portions of this measure.”
California Deputy Atty. Gen. Stephanie Wald, representing Wilson, opposed the order and argued that it was unnecessary because Proposition 187’s education prohibitions were not due to go into effect until January anyway.
However, attorneys for the plaintiffs pointed to provisions in the measure that did appear to take effect immediately and warned that some schools might try to prevent illegal immigrants from continuing in their classrooms.
Pollak, considering the Los Angeles Unified suit and two others filed on behalf of students elsewhere, set a court date for Nov. 28 for arguments on whether to issue a preliminary injunction.
Later Wednesday in Los Angeles, U.S. District Judge Matthew Byrne Jr. stopped short of formally and immediately barring implementation of the law, as a coalition of civil rights groups and individuals requested in four additional lawsuits. But he strongly indicated he wanted enforcement of the entire measure held in abeyance until both sides have time to present legal arguments.
“I want the court to be notified of any firm--not rumor--indication of enforcement of (the measure) in this time,” Byrne said, extending the order to attorneys for both the state and the four groups of plaintiffs.
“It is the impact on individuals that I’m concerned about,” Byrne told Deputy Atty. Gen. Jon M. Ichinaga, who was representing state health agencies and Wilson’s office. He ordered all parties to advise him in writing “of any substantive” action to enforce the measure.
In the interim, Byrne said state officials may proceed with “in-house” preparations for enforcement of the measure without “violating the spirit of what I’m attempting to do.”
The sweeping suit by the civil rights groups charges that the initiative unlawfully intrudes on federal jurisdiction over immigration and denies various constitutional rights partly by encouraging discrimination against persons who appear or sound foreign.
“What we have in effect is no implementation, no enforcement of Proposition 187,” Antonia Hernandez, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told reporters.
But Ichinaga interpreted the judge’s words differently. He said Byrne clearly implied “he would raise a concern” if the measure was enforced in the next week. But Ichinaga added that Byrne “did not issue an issue an injunction against the state. It seems to me he basically wants to know if it is implemented, but he didn’t make any express ruling that it shouldn’t be.”
Spokesmen for the governor and attorney general quickly announced that the judge’s action would not interfere with their implementation plans.
Since Proposition 187 contains a severability clause, some sections could conceivably take effect while others were still being debated in court cases. But legal experts say suits could tie up certain portions of the measure for anywhere from two to five years.
Streets and Schools
As dawn broke over California on Wednesday, it was business as usual for illegal immigrants who work as day laborers, kitchen employees and in other jobs.
“We can’t be afraid, we have to confront this issue,” said Juan Carlos, 30, a father of three, as he waited for work outside a Homebase store in Ladera Heights. “It is either this or starve.”
Outside MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, a slender, grizzled man was loud and clear about offering fake identification documents, despite stiff new sanctions included in Proposition 187.
“Micas, micas,” he called out in Spanish, using the term many residents know applies to driver’s licenses, resident alien cards or Social Security cards.
A couple of blocks away, along another side of the park, a few young men who also sell illegal documents said they were keeping a lower profile than usual.
“Mica” salesmen and other area residents said Proposition 187 will not change conditions for Latinos and others in the city who are struggling to survive. Most of those people will remain in the United States and will do what they can to earn some money, they said.
At Martin Luther King-Drew Medical Center, meanwhile, business also proceeded pretty much as usual. “We haven’t been notified of any cancellation of appointments in any of our clinics,” said spokeswoman Tassie Cleveland.
A wave of introspection swept over public school campuses Wednesday morning, where just a week before student protests hit their peak with more than 10,000 young people walking out of class in Los Angeles alone.
A day after Proposition 187’s passage, there were only a handful of small protests involving fewer than 500 students.
On the UC Irvine campus, about 150 students marched and chanted opposition to 187 from about 6:30 to 9 p.m. There were no incidents, campus security officials said.
Meanwhile, school administrators grappled with ways to help students cope with the disappointment.
“I’m just too stunned to do anything,” said Luz Castillo, a 17-year-old Reseda High School student who just two weeks ago organized an anti-187 walkout and forum.
Times staff writer Jodi Wilgoren contributed to this report