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Assembly panel rejects illegal immigration measures

SACRAMENTO – An Assembly committee on Tuesday rejected proposed constitutional amendments seeking to deny a series of benefits to illegal immigrants and create a state border police force, but both could resurface next year as ballot initiatives.

The Judiciary Committee voted 4-2 to turn down an amendment by Assemblyman Mark Wyland, R-Del Mar, that would prevent illegal immigrants from receiving any health care or social services not required by federal law.

The committee also voted 5-2 to reject an amendment by Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta, that would create a state border police force to supplement federal efforts to enforce immigration laws, including the ban on hiring illegal immigrants.

Republican lawmakers said illegal immigration costs California $9 billion to $10 billion a year in areas such as education, health care and incarceration and that the federal government isn't controlling the borders.

"The federal government has just abandoned state and local governments and is doing a terrible job on this...," Assemblyman Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, said in support of the Wyland measure. "Something needs to be done. This is the right step in the right direction."

Opponents said both measures raised constitutional questions, that they could actually increase state costs and that the two lawmakers should be complaining to President Bush about inadequate immigration enforcement.

"If there's a need for greater security, that's a need the federal administration should be taking on," said Judiciary Committee chairman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento.

Haynes said California officials should "quit whining about the federal government doing their job and actually get about the business of doing our job – protecting the safety, health and quite frankly the pocketbook of the people of the state of California."

The committee rejected the proposals along party lines. To take effect, constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of the Legislature and then must be approved by voters.

Haynes and Wyland said there would be efforts to put their proposals – or similar ones – on the ballot next year as initiatives. Such a step could re-ignite the heated debate over immigration that was triggered by Proposition 187 of 1994.

Voters approved Proposition 187, which was a broader ban on social services for illegal immigrants than Wyland's legislation, but a federal court subsequently ruled most of it unconstitutional. Wyland predicted it would have been upheld if then-Gov. Gray Davis had pursued an appeal.

Wyland said he was "absolutely certain" his legislation would be upheld if challenged in the courts, but Jones said it had "serious constitutional defects."

Opponents also challenged Haynes' contention that federal law and court rulings would allow California to set up its own force of immigration police.

Hayes said he envisioned a force of about 1,700 officers that could supplement federal efforts to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing the Mexican border, as well as arresting illegal immigrants who succeed in entering the state.

He said there is no federal enforcement once illegal immigrants get passed the border.

Opponents questioned where the deficit-plagued state would get the money to pay for the extra officers and said immigration police could jeopardize the relationship between local officers and immigrant communities.

"The solution is not to create a new border patrol," Francisco Estrada, director of public policy for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told the committee.

What's needed instead, he said, is "comprehensive immigration reform" that would clear up a visa backlog and allow a legal immigrant work force.

Wyland said his legislation would bar the state from providing nonemergency medical care for illegal immigrants. It also would make them ineligible for retirement benefits, welfare, disability benefits, unemployment benefits, and housing and food assistance, according to an Assembly analysis of the legislation.

The measure also would prohibit the state from issuing driver's licenses or state identification cards to illegal immigrants, bar attempts to allow them to vote, deny them a break on tuition at public colleges and universities, and require voters to show proof of citizenship at the polls.

A bill by state Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, that would allow illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses has passed the Senate and is awaiting a hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Wyland said his proposal would eliminate incentives for illegal immigrants to come to California, but Jones said jobs are the real lure.

"Until business organizations get serious about increasing sanctions on employers who hire people illegally, people are going to continue to come across the border," Jones said.

Opponents said the Wyland amendment could boost health costs by denying preventive care to illegal immigrants and would raise equal protection questions by denying benefits to the U.S. citizen children of those immigrants.

 

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