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Prop. 187 Did Harm, Say Clinic Doctors, Patients : Health: They cheer judge’s ruling but say many who needed care, including legal immigrants, stayed away out of fear.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When pediatrician Luz Medina looks into the eyes of a pregnant, undocumented immigrant, she sees her own mother.

She sees the mother who told her to hide from the landlord and kept the family out of public places after they came to Los Angeles illegally in 1966. She sees the mother who went through a pregnancy without medical care, giving birth to a child with a heart defect that required corrective surgery.

The surgery saved the life of Medina’s younger brother, Alex. It changed the life of 11-year-old Luz Medina forever.

“That’s why I’m here,” Medina said during a break from appointments at the Community Health Foundation clinic in East Los Angeles this week. “It reminds me of where I came from. When we see women here who are undocumented, I know what they’re going through.”

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At clinics like this one and on the streets of Pico-Union and east Hollywood and South-Central, the effects of Proposition 187 and the divisive debate it engendered linger on. Immigrants and non-immigrants alike say they are cheered by Monday’s court decision that portions of the voter-approved proposition run counter to the U.S. Constitution and federal law. But they are confused by it as well.

And while the Constitution may be strengthened by U.S. District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer’s decision, life remains difficult for immigrants on the streets of Los Angeles.

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Proponents of the anti-illegal immigration measure always stressed they were not targeting documented or legal immigrants. Yet as time wore on, immigrants and non-immigrants alike complained of a generalized anti-Latino sentiment swirling around the Proposition 187 debate.

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“It seems legally [Proposition 187] did no damage,” said Medina’s colleague, pediatrician Hesham T. Ragab. “But in terms of emotion, race relations, self-esteem and people’s emotional well-being, it has done a lot of damage. It affects you to live in a part of the country where people think you don’t belong.”

Pregnant women, fathers and children soon began to feel they did not belong in this neighborhood clinic that serves more documented and undocumented immigrants than any other in the nation, according to executive director Rodolfo Diaz. About 20% of the 187,000 visits here are from undocumented immigrants, he said.

Even an unprecedented seven-month campaign undertaken by the clinic, in which volunteers went to homes trying to explain the effects of the proposition, could not reverse the impression that the door to health care was closed to immigrants, he said. Visits have dropped by 25% in the last year, he said.

On the day after voters overwhelmingly approved the anti-illegal immigration measure last year, “it looked like a ghost town in here,” Medina recalled. “No one was here for a couple of days. The waiting rooms were empty.”

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Even more troubling to doctors was the estimated 40% drop in the past year in the number of women visiting the clinic in their first trimester of pregnancy, Diaz said.

“The best time to come in is during the first trimester, because we can intervene in time in high-risk pregnancies, like when the mother is diabetic,” Medina said. Statistically, Latinos suffer from one of the highest rates of diabetes in the nation.

“The [pregnant] women are not coming in as often as they used to,” Medina said. “It’s not because they are not getting pregnant as often. They’re afraid.”

Earlier this week, Medina tended to a woman who was in her 21st week of pregnancy. She asked her why she didn’t visit earlier.

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“She told me, ‘I didn’t think you could see me because of everything that was going on with Proposition 187.’ This was actually a woman who was a California resident. . . . This was not even an undocumented person.”

“They’re not trusting the information that comes out,” Diaz explained. “It’s all word-of-mouth.”

In the clinic’s busy waiting room, relief this week was mixed with lingering desperation.

“What are they going to take away from me? I don’t have anything to take,” demanded one undocumented Mexican immigrant as she bounced her infant son on her lap.

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Alberto Nahin, a documented Honduran immigrant, said Proposition 187 opened the door to discrimination even against those with valid documents.

“They can’t deny us,” said Nahin, an auto mechanic who said he was visiting the clinic for the first time, and paying in cash. “We’re the ones who need it the most. We work. There are plenty of people who don’t work who ask for aid. It’s pure racism.”

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Those bitter charges were echoed in Pico-Union, where immigrants said they have been made scapegoats for the state’s hard economic times.

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“They got rid of 187, but what are they going to do about other discrimination?” said Rosa Candida Jurado Romero, a 66-year-old Salvadoran who sells newspapers and magazines at a licensed stand on 6th Street.

“I feel better that I can go to a hospital to get medicine,” Romero said. “The way it was, I was afraid.”

At nearby El Rescate, an immigrant services center, staff members have been busy answering questions about what Monday’s decision meant for them.

“There’s confusion still that some undocumented people will be able to do one thing, but not another,” said Jaime Flores, director of community economic development for the center.

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And while they hailed the decision, El Rescate staff members said it will not erase the racial divisions caused by the debate, or stop similar measures being debated nationwide.

“There’s so much division in this city, I don’t think a court decision will really affect it,” said Executive Director Celia Grail.

“While we are afraid of 187, there are still plenty of other bills that are even worse for immigrants and Latinos,” added Flores.


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