An immigration initiative in Arizona that would require secure identification to vote in elections and to receive public benefits was endorsed yesterday by more than two dozen Republican state legislators and candidates at a rally outside the statehouse in Phoenix.
Arguing that illegal immigration in Arizona is out of control, the lawmakers and candidates said passage of Proposition 200 was a crucial first step in reducing the problem and would send a message to Mexico that illegal immigration is not condoned.
“If Proposition 200 passes, it could be a springboard for new federal legislation on illegal immigration,” said Brantley Davis, an initiative spokesman in Washington.
The proposition, on the Nov. 2 ballot, would require Arizonans to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote and to show identification when voting in person. Listed as acceptable identification are Arizona driver’s licenses issued after 1996, birth certificates, U.S. passports and Bureau of Indian Affairs cards or tribal treaty card numbers.
Arizona voters currently are required only to sign a voter-registration card saying they are a U.S. citizen and eligible to vote. A Social Security card is required for state benefits, although a waiver is available if a person does not have one.
The initiative also calls for state and local government employees to check the immigration status of those applying for non-federally mandated public benefits. Under the proposal, state workers would face up to four months in jail and fines up to $750 for failing to report suspected illegal aliens seeking public benefits. They would be required to alert federal immigration officials in writing.
The Arizona proposition has drawn strong opposition from several organizations, including the 1.6 million-member Service Employees International Union, National Council of La Raza and the Mexican-American Legal and Educational Fund.
The labor union has said the proposition was placed on the ballot illegally because the description on initiative petitions was inadequate and because Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer did not attempt to verify the qualifications of petition circulators.
But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Mark Armstrong in Phoenix rejected that accusation, ordering that the measure be placed on the ballot. Arizona Assistant Attorney General Jessica Funkhouser also said Mrs. Brewer had no authority or duty to check circulators’ qualifications before certifying ballot measures.
Last month, an Arizona Republic poll in Phoenix showed that 66 percent of registered Arizona voters support the measure. The poll said Republicans favor the initiative by an 8-1 margin, while Democrats approve by a 3-1 margin.
Most of the opposition to the initiative has come from Democrats, Hispanic leaders and business and labor officials, including the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, who have described the measure as a threat to the state’s economy. They have raised nearly $2 million to finance a series of television and radio ads against the initiative.
Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, is against the initiative, and a report she requested last month said taxpayers would spend $20 million annually to verify the immigration status of people seeking public benefits.
But proponents have said the state will save the millions of dollars it now spends on crime enforcement and health and welfare benefits for illegal aliens.
In a related matter, the U.S. House voted 222-177 on Tuesday to allow the use of Mexican identification cards, known as “matricula consular,” to open U.S. bank accounts. The vote removed language in a pending $89.9 billion Transportation and Treasury funding bill aimed at preventing use of the cards.
The cards, issued by the Mexican government, allow Mexican foreign nationals in this country to open accounts and send money home without having to pay wire-transfer fees. It is estimated that Mexicans in the United States send $11 billion annually to their home country.
The FBI has said the cards pose a criminal and terrorist threat and are easy to obtain through fraud and inadequate security measures by the Mexican government.