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Whitman says she and Brown are similar on illegal immigration

July 14, 2010 |  4:34 pm

The gubernatorial candidates continued to spar over illegal immigration Wednesday, with Republican nominee Meg Whitman insisting her positions are not so different from those of her Democratic rival, Jerry Brown, and Brown countering that their views are as different as night and day.

Whitman began the back-and-forth, publishing an op-ed piece in several Spanish-language newspapers that criticized the harsh rhetoric surrounding the debate and noting that she received flak in the Republican primary because of her opposition to Arizona’s controversial crackdown on illegal immigrants.

She says she and Brown opposed that law, as well as driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, sanctuary cities and Proposition 187, the 1994 California ballot initiative that would have denied most taxpayer-funded services to those in the country illegally.

“Clearly, when examining our positions on immigration, there is very little over which Jerry Brown and I disagree,” Whitman wrote for the Eastern Group Publications in East Los Angeles, which distributes 11 newspapers. “Latinos seeking a candidate who supports amnesty for illegal immigrants won't find one on the gubernatorial ballot this year.”

Whitman declines to say what should be done about illegal immigrants in the country, saying such a discussion cannot be made until the federal government secures the border. However, her words suggest she is not in the camp that supports deporting all of them.

“We must find a fair and practical solution to the status of the millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States,” she wrote.

Whitman has gotten into trouble in this area before. Last fall, while visiting the border, Whitman said, "Can we get a fair program where people stand at the back of the line, they pay a fine, they do some things that would ultimately allow a path to legalization?"  The last three words are precisely those derided as "amnesty" by Republicans who have argued for stricter controls. A spokeswoman later said the candidate was referring not to citizenship but to a "temporary guest worker program."

In the GOP primary, as rival Steve Poizner hammered her for those words, Whitman brought out her campaign manager, former Gov. Pete Wilson, a man celebrated by many conservatives and reviled by many Latinos because of his highly visible support of Proposition 187. Wilson appeared in a radio ad called “Tough as Nails,” in which Whitman said, "Illegal immigrants should not expect benefits from the state of California."

Democrats point out that such a denial of benefits was the aim of Proposition 187. Whitman’s campaign, which has aggressively and expansively courted Latinos since the primary, says that in the ad, Whitman is referring only to the benefits that appear in the next sentence in the ad, driver's licenses and admission to state-funded universities and colleges.

Brown, asked Wednesday in San Diego about the dust-up, said that he does not support kicking undocumented students out of college and that he favors comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

He accused Whitman of saying one thing in English and the opposite in Spanish, and urged Latino voters not to be fooled by what she is saying to them on Spanish-language ads and billboards.

“Here’s the deal: Meg and Pete Wilson are aligned together. It’s two peas in a pod, all right?” he said. “I did walk with Cesar Chavez. I helped get the farm labor bill when I was governor, the only state in America that did that. So people know where my heart is.”

-- Seema Mehta in San Diego

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