- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2005

Immigration-control activists announced a bill to crack down on benefits available to illegal aliens in Arkansas, the first in what is expected to be a wave of initiatives and bills following the success of a similar proposition in Arizona in November’s election.

Arkansas state Sen. Jim Holt yesterday said he will sponsor a bill in the legislature this year to deny benefits and inhibit the ability of illegal immigrants to register and vote. And state resident Joe McCutchen promised to lead a grass-roots effort to support the bill.

Mr. McCutchen said he thinks it’s up to citizens to take action on illegal immigration.

“If our republic’s to be saved, we’d better,” he said. “It’s obvious the president has no intention to secure the borders, and I think this is by design. I think they’re dedicated to destroying the sovereignty and heritage and culture of this nation for their own purpose, whatever that may be.”

Mr. McCutchen’s group, Protect Arkansas Now, is following the lead of Kathy McKee, the woman who described herself as a Quaker Sunday School teacher and led Protect Arizona Now, the group that put Proposition 200 on last year’s ballot.

Proposition 200 forces those registering to vote to prove their citizenship, those showing up to vote to provide identification, and denies some state benefits to illegal aliens. It passed with 56 percent of the vote, despite opposition from the majority of the state’s congressional delegation, many state officials and a host of immigrant advocacy groups.

Ms. McKee recently announced that Protect Arizona Now has become Protect America Now, and will try to foster similar initiatives or state statutes throughout the nation.

“Hopefully, others can learn from our success and not try to re-invent the wheel,” she said.

Ms. McKee said her goal is to avoid becoming like some of the national lobbying groups on immigration.

“Over the past decade, entirely too much money has gone away from local efforts — going instead to Washington groups with huge overheads — for there to be meaningful success combating illegal immigration,” she said.

“Goodness knows, Protect Arizona Now’s Prop. 200 has been one of the two to three significant successes with this issue the past two decades; while I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a single major success that has come from the Beltway fund-raisers.”

In the midst of the Arizona effort, her group clashed with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a national lobby, over which group should be leading the petition drive. The two groups since have disagreed over the scope of the ban on benefits.

Virginia Deane Abernathy, chairwoman of the National Advisory Board of Protect America Now, said there are efforts in states other than Arkansas. She would not say where else the group may be active, but Colorado is considered a prime opportunity.

She said 23 states allow citizen initiatives, including Arkansas, but the group decided to go ahead with a bill rather than an initiative in Arkansas because it takes less money and grass-roots manpower, she said.

California pioneered a crackdown on benefits to illegal aliens with the passage of Proposition 187 in 1994. But federal courts ruled it unconstitutional, and state officials did not appeal the decision.

Both the new national and Arkansas efforts are bound to run into opposition from immigrant and civil rights groups, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), which sued to try to stop the Arizona initiative.

MALDEF lost in federal district court and now is appealing to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block the benefits provisions. It also has asked the Justice Department not to approve the voter identification measures, arguing that the provisions are discriminatory, since Hispanics and other minorities are less likely to have the required identification.

Araceli Soledad Perez, a staff attorney at MALDEF, had not seen the Arkansas bill but said the same objections hold true for any state statute or initiative.

“Immigration is exclusively the province of the federal government, and that’s been our position all along, and that’s been the crux of our appeal in the 9th Circuit,” she said.

Miss Perez said the move to go state by state is not the right approach.

“I think what voters and states need to do is, if they think there are immigration problems and they want immigration reform, they need to lobby their congressmen for nationwide immigration reform,” she said. “States are not the channel to change immigration law.”

But Mr. McCutchen said President Bush has failed citizens.

“I’ve heard him say ‘secure the Iraqi borders,’ but in four years I’ve never heard the man say one time ‘secure the U.S. borders’” Mr. McCutchen said.

Mr. McCutchen said his freedom of information requests to Arkansas state officials to try to determine the costs of illegal immigration have been turned down, with state officials saying they do not have the data.

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