Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Many of those running in the California recall election are pushing for curbs on illegal immigration — almost everyone, it seems, except the major candidates.

From activist Joe Guzzardi, whose campaign goal is to make immigration an issue, to pornographer Larry Flynt, who has called for an amnesty before clamping down on the state’s border, illegal immigration is a stated issue for many of the 135 candidates vying to become the next governor if voters recall incumbent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis on Oct. 7.

There’s Douglas Anderson, a Republican mortgage broker, who told the Los Angeles Times the state needs to “control our borders, and stop illegal immigration.” And Brooke Adams, a 25-year-old account executive, running as an independent, who says on her Web site the state “cannot continue to provide costly services to illegal immigrants.”

Several other candidates also are touting their stance on immigration, including Leonard Padilla, a Sacramento bounty hunter who told the Associated Press he learned from his own time in jail the impact of illegal immigration and the need to fight it.

But from Mr. Davis, to Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger to independent Arianna Huffington, the candidates who have grabbed most of the attention are largely silent on illegal immigration.

“My impression of it is Schwarzenegger, [Lt. Gov. Cruz] Bustamante, Davis himself, [Republican Tom] McClintock, [Republican Peter] Ueberroth, Huffington — none of them have mentioned a single thing about it unless they were under duress,” said Mr. Guzzardi, a Democrat and schoolteacher, who writes a column on immigration control on the Internet.

“What we see playing out in California is this fundamental divide between the American people and our leaders,” said Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies.

The center released a report last year that showed a large disconnect between public officials, community leaders and other elite on the one hand, and average voters on the other hand, on the importance of addressing immigration.

The analysis found 70 percent of the general public believed controlling illegal immigration should be an important goal of foreign policy, but only 22 percent of “elites” did.

Mr. Camarota said that’s playing out among the candidates in California — some are long-time politicians or public figures who run in the “elite” circles, while the rank-and-file candidates are more in touch with average voters’ concerns.

But Ricardo Ramirez, assistant professor of political science at the University of Southern California, said the major candidates are paying the issue no heed because voters aren’t clamoring for it.

“The mainstream candidates aren’t focusing on immigration, and a big reason is the public isn’t focusing on that,” he said.

A Los Angeles Times poll from earlier this week suggested immigration just isn’t moving many voters in California.

In particular, the poll found that about half of those surveyed said a candidate’s position on Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative intended to cut state benefits to illegal immigrants, didn’t matter.

Only 19 percent of those surveyed would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported Proposition 187, while 24 percent would be less likely to vote for someone who supported it.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, in particular, has said when asked that he supports Proposition 187. In a radio interview yesterday, he reiterated that stance, but said the issue was moot because courts had largely voided the measure.

The bodybuilder-turned-actor also told host Sean Hannity that illegal aliens already here should stay, but said that was an issue for the federal government, and a spokesman later told reporters Mr. Schwarzenegger was not making an amnesty proposal.

He also brought on board his campaign former Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican who pushed the initiative. By contrast, Mr. Davis accepted a court ruling that the proposition violated the Constitution, thus gutting it.

Mr. Ramirez said the outsider candidates are now focusing on immigration simply as a way of getting attention.

“They’re not going to receive a lot of attention based on their other policy proposals, so in order to attract a few voters who say immigration is a big concern in California, they’re going to attract those folks,” he said.

But Mr. Guzzardi said it’s impossible to address California’s short- or long-term problems without accounting for immigration. A recent report from the Federation for American Immigration Reform estimated California spends $2.2 billion a year on educating illegal immigrant children, and activists say the list of other costs includes health care, prisons and jails.

“I’m trying to get in there and force the other candidates to begin a dialogue about it,” he said.

Luis Arteaga, executive director of the Latino Issues Forum in San Francisco, said “California remains schizophrenic” about its changing racial and ethnic identity.

On the one hand, he pointed to the several candidates who are immigrants, like Austrian Mr. Schwarzenegger and Greek Mrs. Huffington, or children of an immigrant, like Mr. Bustamante. He said they and the other major candidates have watched as Hispanic voters flee the Republican Party after Proposition 187.

Still, he said, “in bad economic times [there is] this feeling that there are people in this state who are draining our public resources, that are swarming our public schools, causing a public health meltdown. Some candidates, it looks like, are still trying to capture that sentiment.”

At least one of the major candidates is courting the Hispanic vote by softening the rules for illegal immigrants.

Mr. Davis has changed an earlier position and declared he will now sign a new version of a bill to allow illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses. He had opposed other versions in the past.

That has forced the other prominent candidates to take a stand — at least on this issue.

Both Mr. Schwarzenegger and Mr. McClintock oppose the legislation, according to a Los Angeles Times survey of the major candidates. But the others all said they would sign the bill, including Mr. Ueberroth, Mr. Bustamante, Mrs. Huffington and Green Party candidate Peter Camejo.

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