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Reno joins opposition to immigration measure

Attorney General Janet Reno has joined the growing opposition to a California ballot proposition designed to crack down on illegal immigration.

Dubbed the "Save Our State" initiative by its supporters, the proposition seemed like a certain winner just a few weeks ago with a 2-1 lead in the polls, but two statewide surveys released Thursday showed that the gap has narrowed to 14 points or fewer.

As in many candidate races around the country, the contest over the proposition reflected a broad, ill-defined anger in the electorate, especially in recession-battered California. But this anxiety and the accompanying demands for drastic change now appear to be tempering rapidly as the November election approaches.

Proposition 187 would deny virtually all public services, including education, to illegal immigrants. A Justice Department analysis of the proposition released Thursday concluded that a similar measure had been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982.

Proposition 187 was harshly criticized last week by former Republican Cabinet secretaries Jack Kemp and William Bennett. It has drawn opposition from the largest teacher, school board and medical associations in the state and for the past two weeks has been the target of a radio advertising campaign that attacks the measure as ineffective and the product of "a police-state mentality."

Reno added her voice to the criticism Thursday, telling a news conference at the Justice Department: "It doesn't make sense to turn schoolteachers and nurses into border patrol agents. It doesn't make sense to kick kids out of school or not to give them immunizations."

A survey released by the independent Field Poll Thursday showed 53 percent of registered voters favored the proposition while 39 percent opposed it. In July, the same poll showed 64 percent in favor and 27 percent opposed, while in late September the spread was 57-31.

A Los Angeles Times poll released Thursday showed the proposition ahead by 12 points among registered voters, compared with a 29-point advantage in a survey taken just two weeks ago.