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Immigration demagoguery

California is called the Golden State. But it should be called the "Proposition State." Every few years or so, a legislator or a citizens' group tries to solve the most immediate problems with a ballot initiative. Gov. Pete Wilson, facing a Nov. 8 election showdown against Kathleen Brown, hatched the most recent ballot measure. It's called Proposition 187, or "Save Our State." It would deny the children of illegal aliens non-emergency health care, schooling, welfare and other social service benefits.

Obviously, California, the nation's most populous state, faces many immigration problems. But the governor has put politics ahead of principle by using the issue to boost his standings in the polls. He falsely claims that by denying the most basic public benefits, illegal aliens will stop crossing the border. Cutting off benefits won't stop poor, desperate people from fleeing economic hardship. Denying the children of illegal aliens the right to attend public schools is counterproductive; if they're not in school, they'll be on the streets. And denying these children non-emergency medical care will cause more problems than it will solve. Imagine the repression that will emerge if children are forced to snitch on their undocumented parents and if teachers must tattle on their pupils, as Proposition 187 mandates.

Wilson, like Gov. Lawton Chiles of Florida, should be trying to get the federal government to enforce existing immigration policies while allocating more funds to states that absorb most of the illegals. Proposition 187 is pure demagoguery. Wilson knows that the initiative is mostly unconstitutional, but it gets an already angry electorate pumped up even more. He knows that a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision makes the children of illegal aliens eligible for many of the benefits his proposition slashes. This ill-advised sham will cost California taxpayers hundreds of thousands _ if not millions _ of dollars in unnecessary legal fees.

A handful of Republicans, including Jack Kemp and William Bennett, have denounced the measure. "For some, immigrants have become a popular political and social scapegoat," Kemp and Bennett wrote. "But concerns about illegal immigration should not give rise to a series of fundamentally flawed, constitutionally questionable "solutions.' "

We agree. But pollsters warn that because immigration has become a new litmus test for politicians, California voters will eagerly approve Proposition 187. Here in Florida, where the immigration issue is red meat, we hope that our next governor won't follow California in turning human misery into a political shell game in which everyone loses.

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