A federal judge has blocked from enforcement an Arizona proposition that denies illegal aliens welfare benefits, just hours before Gov. Janet Napolitano was to proclaim it into law yesterday.
In a ruling late Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge David C. Bury put the initiative on hold until he can convene a full hearing on Dec. 22.
"There are 'serious questions' regarding whether or not Proposition 200 is preempted by federal law. Second, there are 'serious questions' regarding whether or not Proposition 200 passes constitutional muster," wrote Judge Bury, agreeing to a request by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Proposition 200 passed with 56 percent of the vote on Nov. 2. It would require voters to prove their U.S. citizenship and would prevent illegal aliens from obtaining certain welfare benefits.
After the judge's ruling, Miss Napolitano, a Democrat, decided not to issue the proclamation making the proposition a law, said spokeswoman Jeanine L'Ecuyer. "Our interpretation of that order is she is prohibited from proclaiming the provisions from Proposition 200 into law."
That drew outrage from those who fought to pass the measure. They accused the governor of purposely "slow-walking" to try to ignore the will of the voters.
"Evidently, the governor's going to do what she's planning to do all along and not sign a proclamation. Now we're going to have to wait," said Kathy McKee, who spearheaded the citizen effort to pass the proposition.
"The people of this state are so stupid to believe this political propaganda and these lame excuses, and I guess they deserve the type of government we've got," she said.
Adding to the confusion, her group is fighting with the national Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which also backed the measure, over how broadly to interpret the bar against public benefits for illegal immigrants.
But both groups agree the governor should proclaim the law now to give it more force going into the court cases.
"Proposition 200 is definitely constitutional, it's definitely legal," FAIR Executive Director Dan Stein said. "Only Bozo the Clown would think the governor wasn't slow-walking."
Both groups say they don't believe the governor or Attorney General Terry Goddard will adequately defend the proposition before the courts, and both plan to try to join the court case in order to present their own arguments.
"We are not going to stand idly by and allow the governor to suffocate the measure by not defending it," Mr. Stein said.
Ms. L'Ecuyer called the charges of delay "silly" and said the governor expects the attorney general to defend the proposition aggressively.
"Arizona was prepared to implement, per the attorney general's opinion, the provisions of Proposition 200 today," she said. "We will continue to go forward as if the law will be implemented on Dec. 22."
Attorneys for the Mexican-American legal defense group filed a lawsuit on Tuesday that says the voters' initiative obstructs federal immigration laws and interferes with U.S. foreign relations. The group argues that the denial of welfare benefits would "jeopardize the health and well being of families and children," and that the proof of citizenship provision would "disenfranchise thousands of voters."
In his order, Judge Bury, nominated by President Bush in 2001, said the proposition would have "a dramatic chilling effect upon undocumented aliens who would otherwise be eligible for public benefits under federal law," adding that state officials have acknowledged there is no "tangible harm" to halting the law for now.