Republican presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole said at a town meeting here today that she supports a controversial measure to deny public services--except for emergency medical care--to illegal immigrants.
Dole's position is in contrast to efforts by Republican frontrunner Texas Gov. George W. Bush to distance the party from California's Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot measure that provoked a backlash against the GOP among Latino voters.
Dole even embraced the most charged aspect of the California initiative: the move to bar children of illegal aliens from public schools unless they were born in the United States. That provision was a major factor in blocking implementation of the proposition because it appeared to conflict with a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision guaranteeing illegal immigrant children access to public education.
Because illegal immigration is "a situation where the law is being broken, it sends the wrong signal" to provide benefits, Dole said after the meeting. "The California proposition is one I would agree with. That's the easiest way to put it."
Reaction to Proposition 187 was a significant factor in the election of California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, last November. The measure had been promoted by Davis's predecessor, Pete Wilson, who could not seek a third term under the state's constitution.
California, with its 54 electoral votes, is considered crucial to Democratic hopes to hold onto the White House next year and for that reason, GOP strategists are looking for ways to reclaim Republican strength there. But Dole's position aligns her with the politically dangerous Wilson position.
Bush was a brand-new governor in Texas--another state where immigration is a key issue--in 1994 and he has always been careful to keep his distance from the controversy. The GOP frontrunner has been unusually popular for a Republican among Latino voters in Texas and hopes to translate that success to the national scale.
During his first campaign swing through California in June, Bush said he was "against the spirit" of Proposition 187 and would not have supported a similar measure for Texas. "I felt like every child ought to be educated regardless of the status of their parents," he said.
Staff researcher Ben White in Washington contributed to his report.