A BACKLASH is brewing in California - the late 20th century's
great melting pot - over illegal immigration, shaping a growing
Spurred by concerns over the economy, voices are increasingly
being raised about the porousness of the nation's southern border
and the financial impact of undocumented immigrants who are already
here. While critics dismiss such protests as the xenophobia and
political opportunism of a small minority, which comes up every
time money is tight, the issue is nevertheless bubbling on several
* At least 20 bills have been introduced in the state
Legislature aimed at curbing illegal immigration. They range from
deploying troops on the Mexican border to denying undocumented
immigrants driver's licenses. While even proponents give the
measures little chance of success, they have made immigration an
emotional topic here.
* Several candidates are raising the issue in the crowded
mayoral race in Los Angeles. One, Tom Houston, a former deputy
mayor, blames much of the city's budget crisis and crime on
illegals. The Democrat's outspoken comments have resonated with
some voters - but also inspired ire in this immigrant capital.
* A network of anti-immigration activists is surfacing in towns
up and down the state. Small groups have formed in such places as
San Jose and Marin County north of San Francisco. But the core of
the movement is in southern California.
One group in the San Fernando Valley here, Voices of Citizens
Together, holds regular meetings, publishes a monthly newsletter,
and intends to advertise a ranking of mayoral candidates based on
their stands on the issue. "I think immigration is the critical
issue to the state right now," says Glenn Spencer, the group's
president. "We are exporting jobs and importing poverty."
While illegal immigrants are coming to many states, in few
places does the issue stir more emotion than in California, which
has the nation's most diverse populace and a long history of
varying tolerances toward newcomers. Thus the din over immigrants
here will help define the national mood.
The state Department of Finance estimates that undocumented
immigrants comprise about 1.3 million, or 4 percent, of
California's total population. It says another 100,000 are entering
the state each year.
The mini-revolt in the state Legislature, led mainly by
Republicans, has triggered the most-heated fight over illegal
immigration. Some lawmakers want to try to put a finger directly in
the dike, by allowing the governor to station the National Guard
along the border to back up the United States Border Patrol. …