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Voters May Target Illegal Status

Times Staff Writer

As Congress debates the polarizing issue of immigration, the founder of an anti-illegal immigrant group is pushing for San Bernardino to outlaw day labor sites and bar the undocumented from renting property.

Joseph Turner, executive director of the group Save Our State, submitted voter petition signatures this week that would force a City Council vote or a citywide election on the measure, which would also deny city permits, contracts and grants to businesses that employ illegal immigrants, and require that city business be done in English.

The proposal comes as Congress tries to hash out its plan for immigration reform -- a debate that has sparked rallies large and small around the country and rekindled the dispute over how best to deal with the nation’s estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants.

The federal fight has trickled down to cities, including Maywood in Los Angeles County and Coachella in Riverside County, where officials have declared their towns sanctuaries for illegal immigrants. Costa Mesa was recently thrust into the national spotlight when it decided to allow police to check the immigration status of suspected felons.

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The reaction to the proposal in San Bernardino has already ignited a fiery local debate.

“This is bigoted and I don’t think Latinos will be the only ones who suffer. They’re going to pick certain parts of the population to run out of town,” said Marianna Gonzales of the National Alliance for Human Rights, a Riverside-based immigrant advocacy group.

City Councilman Chas A. Kelley praised the ordinance as creative lawmaking needed to cope with the city’s undocumented residents.

“Most people obey the law and the law says you come to this country legally. Period,” he said. “It’s not cruel. It’s not about being racist. It’s obeying the law.”

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The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that Riverside and San Bernardino counties have about 215,000 illegal immigrants.

Latinos account for nearly half of the city of San Bernardino’s 200,000 people, and city voters elected Judith Valles, the country’s first Latina mayor of a city with a population over 100,000, to two terms in office. Josie Gonzales, the sole Latina on the county Board of Supervisors, represents a district dominated by San Bernardino.

The Southern California town that most recently waded into the immigration debate is Costa Mesa, a city of 110,000 whose council endorsed using its police officers to check the immigration status of suspected felons. The decision divided the city, triggered protests and may have played a role in the police chief’s recent resignation.

“Local [immigration] legislation can often polarize a city, and you see that now in Costa Mesa,” said UC Irvine professor Louis DeSipio, who specializes in ethnic politics.

“My suspicion is that it may create a long-term distrust between the immigrant community and native citizens.”

DeSipio called city attempts at immigration law largely symbolic, since enforcement tends to be spotty. “It’s a reaction to the perception that the feds are failing,” the professor said.

Indeed, the San Bernardino proposal stemmed from Turner’s view that larger government bodies were doing little to combat illegal immigration. Local leaders, in turn, were “aiding and abetting illegal aliens to get jobs and reside in our city,” he said.

Turner also acted to prevent creation of a city-run day labor center, which San Bernardino leaders had discussed but never approved.

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Under a rarely used provision of the city charter, Turner needs only 2,216 approved signatures for the proposal to be sent to the seven-member City Council, which would have to vote on the plan but could not alter it. If the council rejects the ordinance, a special citywide election must be held in 90 to 135 days.

Turner this week submitted about 3,100 signatures, which the county registrar of voters has to certify by May 4, three days after a planned national boycott of schools, workplaces and stores to protest congressional proposals against illegal immigrants.

“Is it divisive? Yeah. Is democracy divisive? Yeah,” said City Councilman Neil Derry, who said he agreed with some of the proposal’s tenets but questioned how they would be implemented.

The far-reaching ordinance would ban illegal immigrants from renting or leasing property, allow police to seize vehicles used to pick them up and punish businesses that employ them.

It would also preclude the city from funding or building day labor centers and force privately run centers to verify the immigration status of anyone using their sites, according to an analysis by the city attorney, who added that the law would be vulnerable to a court challenge.

“It’s going to be a laughingstock,” said Jesse Diaz, an organizer for the March 25 Coalition, which headed a rally for immigrant rights in downtown Los Angeles that drew an estimated 500,000 people.

“Something like that is not going to pass in a city that once elected a Latina mayor,” he said.

Outside a San Bernardino Home Depot, day laborer Jose Enriquez, 29, said he relied on construction jobs to support his 10-year-old son in El Salvador. Any such crackdown would make it far harder for him to earn money, he said.

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“I’m not looking to bother people or anyone,” said Enriquez. “Police should go after drug dealers or people with guns, not people who are just looking for work.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Provisions

Main points of an anti-illegal immigration petition filed in San Bernardino:

* The city of San Bernardino would be prohibited from operating, constructing, maintaining or funding any day labor agencies. Any day labor agency would be prohibited from finding work for undocumented workers.

* Any person who solicits a day laborer from a vehicle would have the vehicle seized and impounded.

* Any business that employs (“aids and abets”) a day laborer would have its business permit denied for five years.

* Undocumented immigrants would be prohibited from renting or leasing property in the city. Any property owner renting to such an immigrant would be fined a minimum of $1,000.

* All official city business, including forms and documents, would be in English only, except as required by federal, state or county laws.

Source: San Bernardino

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Times staff writer Susannah Rosenblatt contributed to this report.


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