- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The passage of an Arizona immigration initiative requiring verifiable identification to vote or receive public benefits has spurred similar efforts in other states and created panic among some Hispanics, who are questioning whether it is safe to go to work, shop or send their children to school.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) — which successfully derailed Proposition 187 in California in 1994, a measure that also would have blocked illegal aliens from receiving public services — has vowed to fight the new initiative, known as the Arizona Taxpayer and Citizens Protection Act.

“We lost the battle, but we’re not going to lose the war,” said Daniel Ortega, a Phoenix lawyer and MALDEF spokesman. “We should have beaten it at the polls, but I truthfully and honestly believe we will beat it in the courts.”

MALDEF plans to ask a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction against the new Arizona law as soon as election results are certified Nov. 22. It will argue that the initiative does not specify what benefits can be withheld and does not detail how much implementing the initiative will cost taxpayers.

Initiative proponents, arguing that illegal immigration in Arizona is out of control, said Proposition 200’s passage on Nov. 2 was a crucial first step in reducing a glut of illegal immigration and sends messages to government officials in both Washington and Mexico that illegal immigration will not be condoned.

The initiative — opposed by key elected officials in Arizona, including Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and Republican Sen. John McCain; several Hispanic advocacy groups; labor unions and community and civil rights organizations — passed with 56 percent of the vote.

Stricter border enforcement efforts by federal authorities in California and Texas have funneled hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens into Arizona, where they have placed huge demands on schools, hospitals and other public services.

Janet Murguia, head of the National Council of La Raza, said opponents would have been successful in defeating the initiative if they had more time to reach out to voters. She said the organization “continued to be frustrated by the immigration situation, but we want to remind folks this still is not the answer.”

And Mr. McCain told CNSNews.com yesterday, “I understand the frustration most Arizonans feel with our unprotected border, but I don’t think this is the right answer. It could be very divisive.”

But Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said the proposition’s decisive victory was a “testament to how strongly people in Arizona and the rest of the country feel about the need to deal with the burgeoning problem of mass illegal immigration.”

“Voters in Arizona told unresponsive politicians in Arizona and across the country that if they do not address mass illegal immigration, the public is prepared to go over their heads,” said Mr. Stein, adding that it was “likely” that voters in other states inundated with mass illegal immigration will see the passage of Proposition 200 “as a model of grass-roots activism that can be replicated in their states.”

Randy Pullen, a member of the Republican National Committee who chaired the Yes on Proposition 200 Committee, said passage of the initiative would inspire similar efforts in other Western states and draw the attention of state and national lawmakers.

“When you have the governor, your senators and your congressional delegation against it, you’re outspent 5-to-1, and you still win … it’s a pretty clear message that people want something done,” Mr. Pullen said. “We believe this is the beginning of illegal immigration brought under control.”

Miss Napolitano said she will sign the bill once it is certified, bowing to the will of the people.

In the days after the initiative’s passage, Arizona state officials and Hispanic community leaders said they were deluged with calls from immigrants worried about whether it was safe to go to work, shop or send their children to school.

Head Start leaders in Phoenix said attendance dropped dramatically after Tuesday’s vote, including in one class in which only two of 20 students showed up.

Officials at the Maricopa County Department of Human Services in Phoenix said Spanish-speaking teachers and staff members were assigned to call the parents of 2,700 students enrolled in the federal program to assure them their children were safe at school. Head Start spokeswoman Rachel Schultz said attendance is now normal.

Opponents said many immigrants, both legal and illegal, were afraid that because of the proposition’s passage, they could be stopped at any time and asked for their papers.

The Mexican government said yesterday that the initiative “will lead to discrimination based on racial profiling while limiting access to basic health and educational services.”

The Foreign Ministry said the initiative “doesn’t contribute in any way, shape or form to any constructive manner of dealing with the migration phenomenon between Mexico and Arizona.”

Meanwhile, efforts are under way elsewhere to duplicate the Arizona success, including in:

• California, where a grass-roots organization known as the California Republican Assembly hopes to gain enough signatures to qualify an anti-immigrant initiative for the March 2006 ballot. The group wants to restore portions of Proposition 187 that prohibited benefits to illegal immigrants not mandated by federal law.

• Georgia, where a group known as Georgians for Immigration Reduction said it was “very energized” by the Arizona vote and, says spokesman Jimmy Herchek, is watching “closely” what happens in that state’s court challenges. Mr. Herchek said draft legislation will be presented to legislators in the near future.

• Colorado, where Defend Colorado Now is drafting a constitutional amendment to prevent illegal aliens from receiving “public services” other than those involving public safety or life-threatening emergencies. A petition drive is to begin in January 2006, with 70,000 signatures needed to put it before voters.

• Texas, where Texans for Fair Immigration hope to draft legislation similar to the Arizona initiative and lobby state officials to pass it. State laws bars the placement of initiatives on the ballot.

The Arizona initiative requires proof of citizenship when registering to vote and identification when voting in person. It also calls for state and local government employees to check the immigration status of those applying for non-federally mandated public benefits and establishes fines and other penalties for those who fail to do so.

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