Posted on August 5, 2004

Anti-Initiative Group Gets Rolling

AP,, Aug. 4

Opponents of an anti-immigrant initiative are getting ready to fight the measure either in the courtroom or at the polls.

If the Arizona Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act qualifies to appear on the November ballot, a group of opponents may file a legal challenge to keep it from reaching voters, said former Democratic legislator Alfredo Gutierrez.

“We believe there are enough questionable signatures and or circulators of petitions to knock this off the ballot,” said Gutierrez, of the Statue of Liberty Coalition, which was formed to defeat the measure.

The measure proposed by Protect Arizona Now would require proof of citizenship when registering to vote or when seeking social services to combat welfare and voter fraud.

Since it was first proposed in July 2003, the initiative has caused controversy, with backers saying it would curb lawbreaking by illegal immigrants and opponents saying it is rooted in racism.

Its supporters say they submitted 190,887 voter signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office, more than the 122,612 valid signatures needed to place on the ballot.

About 150,000 of the signatures came from Federation for American Immigration Reform, a national organization that supports the initiative.

They were collected by paid petition-gathering companies and not checked by PAN volunteers, so proponents are optimistic but cautious about the initiative reaching voters, said Virginia Abernethy, chairwoman of PAN’s National Advisory Board.

“There is concern about a high invalidation rate from the paid signature gatherers,” Abernethy said.

It could be Monday or Tuesday before the Secretary of State’s Office determines if supporters collected enough valid signatures to put the measure before voters.

Should the measure get on the ballot, opponents plan to launch a campaign against it in September, Gutierrez said.

They’ll emphasize that the measure doesn’t deal with illegal immigration as it purports.

“The real challenge here, is the initiative and the title, Protect Arizona Now. It implies it has something to do with protection, security, safety,” Gutierrez said. “This has nothing to do with the border, border safety, or security. It has, frankly, nothing to do with immigration.”

Activists have also seized upon the initiative to motivate Hispanics to register and vote.

“Absolutely, this is motivating a lot of folks to become involved and come and vote,” Gutierrez said.

An Arizona State University poll released in July suggests that 74 percent of voters support the Protect Arizona Now initiative.

If approved by voters, the initiative would require Arizonans to prove their citizenship when registering to vote and show identification when casting a ballot in person.

People applying for services not mandated by the federal government, such as welfare, also would have to prove their identification and eligibility.

State or local government workers who don’t report undocumented immigrants that apply for government services could be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to four months in jail.

Federal law already requires state workers to check if applicants are eligible for welfare benefits. Undocumented immigrants are barred from getting childcare assistance, food stamps or money from the government for other needs.

Opponents also say the proposition isn’t needed because there is no evidence of voter fraud among undocumented immigrants.