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Kemp, Bennett Decry California Immigration Initiative

October 19, 1994 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Conservative leaders Jack Kemp and William Bennett oppose a ballot measure that would eliminate most public services for illegal immigrants, the Los Angeles Times reported today.

In the measure’s first opposition from national GOP leaders, the former Republican cabinet secretaries planned to issue a joint statement today criticizing Proposition 187 as contrary to conservative principles and likely to encourage discrimination, the Times said.

″For some, immigrants have become a popular political and social scapegoat,″ said a copy of the statement provided to the Times.

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″But concerns about illegal immigration should not give rise to a series of fundamentally flawed, constitutionally questionable ‘solutions’ which are not consonant with our history,″ the statement said.

Republican Gov. Pete Wilson has strongly favored the proposition during his re-election campaign. In a recent Times poll of likely voters statewide, 59 percent supported the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot and 33 percent opposed it.

The measure would deny illegal aliens public schooling, welfare, non- emergency health care and other public benefits. Its supporters say undocumented immigrants cost California $2.4 billion per year.

Harold Ezell, co-author of the measure and a former Reagan immigration official, criticized Kemp and Bennett’s statement.

″These two guys have been sucked in by the Democratic Party line,″ he said. ″Clinton must have written their press release.″

But Kemp, considered a contender for the 1996 GOP presidential nomination, said the measure ″corrodes the soul″ of his party.

″I am concerned that, if this passes in California, it will be introduced in other states and people will want to put it in the 1996 platform,″ said Kemp, who served as Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Bush.

Bennett, who was Education Secretary under President Reagan, said the initiative would probably create a backlash against Hispanics who are legal immigrants.

″It is wrong in itself, but it is also going to label all immigrants, it is going to turn into a war of colors, a war of races,″ Bennett said. ″It’s bad stuff. It is poison in a democracy.″

Kemp and Bennett, co-directors of the Washington-based think tank Empower America, also feared that the initiative would alienate Hispanics from the GOP.

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″The Republican Party helped to create a Democratic base in many of America’s cities with its hostile stand toward the last generation of immigrants from Italy, Ireland and the nations of Central Europe,″ their statement said.

Proposition 187 also was criticized Tuesday by Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner. The White House hasn’t taken a formal position on it.