Posted on September 2, 2004

Migrant Issue OK’d For Ballot

Elvia Díaz, Arizona Republic, Sep. 1

Mainstream business, political and labor leaders will take over the battle against the state’s anti-illegal-immigration initiative under a new strategy calling Protect Arizona Now a danger to the state’s economy.

Hispanic leaders plan to move to the background as the Arizona Chamber of Commerce joins other business, labor and civil rights groups in trying to defeat the measure, which aims to combat voter and welfare fraud.

Proposition 200 is now certain to be on the Nov. 2 ballot because of a Maricopa County Superior Court judge’s ruling Tuesday. Judge Mark Armstrong rejected claims by a national labor union that petition signatures collected on behalf of the measure were inaccurate and that some circulators were unqualified to gather signatures.

Scott Washburn, Arizona director of the Services Employees International Union, which pursued the case, said the group will not appeal to the state’s Supreme Court.

“It’s a sigh of relief,” said Kathy McKee, state director of Protect Arizona Now.

The groups opposing the measure plan to spend $1 million to $2 million on an advertising blitz to begin on radio and television in Arizona within the next few weeks, emphasizing the potential loss of tourism and convention business. A goal of the new strategy is to avoid the racial overtones played out in discussions of the initiative so far and expand the debate beyond illegal immigration.

“We don’t want parades in south Phoenix brandishing the Mexican flag,” said Bank One Vice President Ruben Ramos, a leading figure in the fight against the measure. “We need to leave emotions out of this campaign.”

McKee, however, questioned the contention that the measure would hurt the state’s economy.

Contrary to the claims of opponents, Proposition 202 would save money spent on illegal immigrants and would merely ensure that the state enforced existing laws, she said.

If the measure passed, all Arizonans would have to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Everyone voting at the polling place would have to show an ID. State and local government employees would have to verify the immigration status of anyone applying for public benefits.

It would become a crime for state and local government employees to fail to report suspected undocumented immigrants seeking public benefits.

Opponents say that the state’s economy would suffer because the plan would cost too much to implement and that some large conventions would be reluctant to come to the state. The theory is that Arizona would lose tourism and convention business as it did after voters turned down a paid holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. more than a decade ago.

The goal is to raise $1 million to $2 million to launch the advertising campaign, which would consist mostly of television and radio ads. Organizers declined to say exactly how successful they have been so far in raising the money, although some said they are about halfway toward their objective.

The idea is to appeal to a broader electorate by tapping into prominent non-Hispanics such as Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and Republican Sen. John McCain, who have said they are against the initiative. Napolitano spokeswoman Jeanine L’Ecuyer said her boss will be involved in the campaign. McCain could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

A key message will be to highlight the potential economic impact of carrying out the initiative, Ramos and others said.

The main players in the campaign include the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the Service Employees International Union, the National Council of La Raza and other groups.

Latinos will still play a key role but largely remain behind the scenes, many of them said.

“Most of us involved in this battle are Hispanics,” said Alfredo Gutierrez, co-chairman of the Statue of Liberty Coalition that will be dissolving to form a new group. “Hispanics aren’t enough to defeat it. The approach is to appeal to everyone.”

The critics will point to recent state government reports indicating that taxpayers could pay millions to implement the measure and keep it going.

The estimates, prepared at the request of Napolitano, showed that at least $20 million would be spent each year to check immigration papers of everyone who sought any type of public benefits or assistance.

McKee said those figures are incorrect and asserted that the state would save much more than it spent to implement the measure.

This week, backers began airing a 30-second radio spot in Tucson and plan to do the same in the Phoenix area during the next few weeks. The ad, paid in part by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, makes illegal immigration the cornerstone of the message.

“The days of the people of Arizona feeling powerless to do anything about illegal immigration end November second,” the ad says. “Illegal immigration costs Arizona taxpayers $1.3 billion a year.”

Several pro-immigrant groups and scholars have disputed that amount.

The initiative doesn’t specify exactly what constitutes a public benefit, triggering a hot debate over the amount of money at stake and the kind of benefits that might be denied.