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Wilson Slams Ilegal Immigration As Presidential Campaign Starts

By Dave Lesher
Los Angeles Times
NEW YORK

California Gov. Pete Wilson ceremoniously kicked off his presidential campaign's announcement tour with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop Monday, seemingly inviting protesters to complain that his White House bid is antithetical to the nation's most famous symbol of hospitality.

Speaking from a decorated podium on the edge of New York Harbor, Wilson said the statue represents the promise of a rewarding life in America and the social values that have been lost or have suffered due to moral decay and intrusive government programs.

The governor also put his own twist on the statue's historic inscription - "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

Said Wilson: "This implies a promise to refresh the tired, to release the poor from the bonds of poverty and to empower the huddled masses to stand tall. Today's reality - whether for new citizens or native born - falls far short of the promise. The tired have escaped foreign tyrants only to suffer the oppression of federal tyrants. Too many of the poor have traded poverty for welfare dependency. The huddled masses still yearn to breathe free. Instead, they're imprisoned by the fear of violent crime "

Wilson's speech at Manhattan's Battery Park attracted an estimated 200 supporters and about 50 protesters, who chanted "Liberty is not a prop" as he spoke.

Wilson's campaign has sparked intense opposition from civil rights activists because of his high-profile opposition to affirmative action programs and his support last year for California's Proposition 187, the ballot measure that, if upheld by the courts, will halt an array of public benefits to illegal immigrants.

Wilson's campaign event launched a five-day national tour that is scheduled to include stops in New Hampshire, Florida, Atlanta and Iowa before ending Friday in Los Angeles.