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Clinton on California's Prop 187 and The Bell Curve

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Washington

At a recent White House briefing, President Clinton announced his opposition to the California ballot initiative that would deny illegal immigrants most social services, including public education.

While most of the briefing focused on international issues, Mr. Clinton also voiced uncertainty about a new book on race and intelligence, and defended the Justice Department's decision to switch sides in an affirmative-action case involving two New Jersey teachers.

Addressing California's controversial Proposition 187, Mr. Clinton said voters are right in "wanting to eliminate illegal immigration" and "increase our ability to protect our own borders." But, he said, opposing legal immigration is a "great mistake."

"I don't think as a matter of practice it's a good thing to condition an election referendum, much less other elections in California, on a measure that even the supporters say is unconstitutional," Mr. Clinton added.

He said the measure would lead to unhealthy, uneducated children and increase crime.

"If you turn the teachers and other educators into instruments of a sort of a state police force, it's like bringing Big Brother into the schools," Mr. Clinton added.

A Nod to Diversity

The President said that he has not read the new book The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure, but that he disagrees with the authors' contention that blacks as a group are intellectually inferior to whites and that the difference is caused by genetics.

The book was written by the late Richard J. Herrnstein, a Harvard University psychologist, and Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Mr. Clinton said he disagrees that "there are inherent racially based differences in the capacity of the American people to reach their full potential."

He said the idea goes against this country's "entire history and our whole tradition."

Mr. Clinton was also asked about the Justice Department's decision to support the Piscataway, N.J., school district's 1989 decision to lay off an equally qualified white teacher to retain a black teacher in the name of racial diversity.

"I support the position as finally articulated, but I'd like to say it's a very narrow case," said Mr. Clinton, agreeing that the district was right to try to retain diversity on a faculty with few minority teachers.

But, he said, such decisions should "run both ways."

In 1992, a judge awarded the white teacher, Sharon Taxman, $144,000 in back pay and damages. In September, the Justice Department appealed the award, reversing the position taken by the agency under President Bush.

Ms. Taxman has since returned to teaching in the district.

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