- The Washington Times - Monday, November 22, 2004

An immigration initiative approved in Arizona that sets voting and public benefit standards no other state has yet adopted is expected to be vigorously challenged by civil rights groups and Hispanic advocacy organizations after the law is certified today by the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.

Proponents have promised an equal fight to ensure that the will of the voters is upheld.

Drafted last year by a coalition known as Protect Arizona Now, Proposition 200 — which was approved Nov. 2 with 56 percent of the vote — was billed as a way to bypass state lawmakers to put a measure on the ballot to prevent fraud among voters and in state and local public-benefit programs.

The initiative makes four key statutory changes in Arizona law, including proof of citizenship to register to vote, proof of identity to vote, verification of identity and eligibility to receive public benefits, and the mandatory reporting of illegal aliens to federal immigration officials.

A number of organizations, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), which successfully sought the striking down of a similar California initiative in 1994 known as Proposition 187, have organized legal teams to fight the Arizona initiative in court.

Hector O. Villagra, regional counsel for MALDEF, urged Arizona residents to “remain calm and continue to access all government benefits and services as normal” while the organization researched the “legality of Proposition 200” and studied potential legal challenges “to prevent it from ever taking effect.”

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, an early critic of Proposition 200, is expected to sign a proclamation declaring the new law in effect “within a week or two” after a canvass of the Nov. 2 election results tomorrow. She told reporters last week that despite her opposition, she was “bowing to the will of the people.”

Meanwhile, proposition proponents — including the Yes of Proposition 200 Committee and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) — sought in a lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court in Mesa, Ariz., on Friday to expand the definition of eligible public benefits under the proposition to include public housing, food assistance, college education and employment benefits.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Arizona citizens seeking to force the state to adopt a definition of public benefits that is consistent with federal law, according to FAIR President Dan Stein. He said U.S. statutes define the term “state and local benefits” to include any grant, contract, loan or professional or commercial license, as well as any retirement, health, disability, public housing, postsecondary education, food assistance, unemployment, or other similar benefit that is funded by a state or local government.

Excluded in the U.S. code, Mr. Stein said, are emergency medical care, short-term in-kind disaster relief, public health assistance for immunization and treatment of communicable diseases, community soup kitchens and shelters, and services “necessary for the protection of life and safety” — including police, fire and paramedic services.

Mr. Stein said the governor and Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard were seeking to apply the narrowest definition possible of public benefits.

“Having failed to persuade the voters of Arizona to reject Proposition 200, the political leadership is attempting to implement the wishes of the voters in the most limited possible fashion,” he said. “While the intent and scope of Proposition 200 was presented clearly and forthrightly to the voters, opponents of the measure are now arguing that there was a deliberate attempt to mislead the Arizona voters.”

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