Proponents say Proposition 200 will stop “hundreds of millions of dollars” in welfare cheating by illegal immigrants and keep them out of the voting booth.
Opponents say “Protect Arizona Now” is funded primarily by out-of-state anti-immigration organizations, is mean-spirited, institutionalizes racial profiling and would do little to address proponents’ concerns about welfare and voter fraud. Nor would it stop illegal immigration.
The initiative would, among other things, require people to show proof of citizenship before being allowed to register to vote.
For Iris Lynch of Hereford, the doom-and-gloom predictions from the opposition are just an attempt by those who benefit from illegal immigration to preserve a status quo—cheap labor subsidized by welfare benefits and government programs.
“Basically the only thing the initiative does is amend existing law, and we have to enforce the laws,” said Lynch, head of Save Our Vote, a local political action committee pushing for approval of Proposition 200.
“I have four grown children and eight grandchildren and I’m doing this to protect them. It’s important they not have to pay such terribly high taxes . . . and they should be able to compete in the marketplace without such overwhelming numbers of people who are used to working for 50 cents an hour in Mexico.”
Lynch’s organization spent about $1,500 in its effort, though most of it was her money.
That’s pocket change compared to some of the fund-raising by other groups pushing for passage of the proposition. Phoenix-based Yes on Prop 200 has collected $224,000, according to filings with the Secretary of State’s Office. About $208,000 of that money came from out-of-state contributors like the Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington, D.C., and Americans for Immigration Control in Monterey, Va.
Protect Arizona Now, which gathered petitions and got the measure on November’s ballot, has spent nearly $500,000 on the effort. Out-of-state funding figured prominently with that group as well.
The opponents of Proposition 200 have raised about $800,000, most of it going to the Phoenix-based No on 200 campaign. That includes $250,000 donated by the Washington, D.C.-based Service Employees International Union.
A new statewide survey of 594 registered voters who say they are likely to cast ballots this year shows the anti-200 effort may be making headway. Support for Proposition 200 has slipped to 42 percent from 74 percent in a similar poll three months ago.
Meanwhile, those who said they oppose the measure grew to 29 percent in the most recent poll, compared with 16 percent in July. Another 29 percent of those surveyed in the latest poll said they were undecided.
Proposition 200 requires proof of identification and citizenship from voters and applicants for some government services that are not federally mandated. Government officials who fail to report violations could face a misdemeanor charge.
A report prepared in August by the heads of state agencies at the request of Gov. Janet Napolitano estimates the cost of compliance with the initiative would be at least $28 million. It included the potential additional loss of close to $250 million in federal health care and family assistance funding because of non-compliance with federal regulations.
The measure is opposed by union groups, health care alliances, immigration advocates, the state’s Catholic bishops, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and nearly every elected official in Arizona, including Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva, who says the initiative “is motivated by hate.”
“There is no rationale for it and the support being garnered for it is one of desperation. The people pushing this initiative have told the public a lot of falsehoods, mainly that this is going to deal with undocumented people and illegal immigration and it is not, there’s no connection,” said Grijalva.
Kathy McKee, director of Protect Arizona Now, which began the push for Proposition 200 more than a year ago, says the law is needed because the government has failed to enforce existing laws. In some cities, she says, police can’t even report violations of immigration law . And, she said, some state agencies prohibit employees from asking people their citizenship.
“The villain in this whole mess is government because regardless of their (illegal entrants) reason for coming here—for crime, welfare or to work—the government has opened the door wide open and put out a red carpet,” she said.
McKee said predictions that every state service will be affected by the initiative requirements are wrong because the measure changes only laws that deal with government welfare programs.
She also said efforts to put a price tag on enforcing the initiative are speculative, noting that even the joint budget committee of the Legislature has said it is impossible to estimate the costs of the proposition because there is no way of knowing how many people are on welfare fraudulently.
One hint at the scope of the problem comes from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, which recently confirmed that 65,000 undocumented people hold special emergency medical AHCCCS cards, McKee said.
The 65,000 people referred to in the AHCCCS report are the undocumented parents of citizen children, said Frank Lopez, an AHCCCS spokesman. And the cards they have been issued pre-qualify the holder only for emergency medical care, which according to federal law must be provided to anyone who needs it.
He said AHCCCS has been unable to assess the budget impacts of Proposition 200 because they’re not yet certain how it would be implemented.
Vince Wood, the Department of Economic Security’s assistant director for family assistance, is also wondering how his office will be affected and how much it will cost to follow the new rules if voters approve Proposition 200.
Federal regulations covering food stamps and temporary cash assistance programs administered by the state already require applicants to attest to their citizenship or immigration status. Their statement has to be backed up by a verifiable birth certificate, census records or immigration documents.
The financial cost to the state taxpayer will be enormous, says Francisca Montoya, a member of No on 200, the statewide coalition opposing the proposition. All of this, she said, “because we have a group of people who are upset at the fact Congress has not enacted any form of immigration reform, and they’re looking at this as a way to send a message to Congress.”
Jerry Kammer, SignOnSanDiego, Oct. 16
PHOENIX—Donna Neill’s home boasts a wall full of plaques from government agencies and businesses hailing her work on behalf of her central city neighborhood.
A 6-foot-tall mother-bear of a woman, she is a volunteer organizer against gangs, graffiti and negligent landlords, and for a new park for children of immigrant families who have poured in over the past decade, mostly from Mexico.
But now Neill is lining up against the Arizona establishment—its congressional delegation, top state officials, the mayors of its principal cities, and the leaders of its churches and chambers of commerce—by supporting a ballot initiative that targets illegal immigration.
“We’re sending a message that it’s time to pay attention to what this is doing to us,” said Neill, 58.
She ticked off a list of problems in Phoenix that she ties to an influx of poor, unskilled immigrants: crowded schools that breed gangs and domestic violence, garages converted to two-family apartments, and home additions hastily improvised in violation of housing codes that go unenforced by an overwhelmed city bureaucracy.
“We’ve got more problems than we can handle, and this has to stop,” Neill said. “There needs to be some rules. What we’ve got now is just chaos. We’re losing the simple things that make a society a society, but no one wants to step forward because they’re afraid of crossing some line and being called a racist.”
A decade after images of illegal immigrants dashing across the border into San Diego helped fuel California’s Proposition 187, immigration anxiety is slashing a new political divide in the Grand Canyon State, where the undocumented population has quadrupled from the 88,000 estimated by federal officials in 1990.
Census figures show Arizona’s Hispanic population jumped 88 percent in the 1990s, doubling the non-Hispanic growth rate.
Fueled by illegal immigration, that growth has gained momentum in the first years of the new millennium.
And so a debate is raging over Proposition 200, which would require proof of legal status from anyone applying for a “public benefit” or registering to vote.
Its advocates call it the Protect Arizona Now, or PAN, initiative.
While advocates like Neill describe the measure as a primal scream of protest aimed at timid politicians, opponents such as Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard warn that it would be a self-inflicted wound for a state whose future hinges on successfully integrating its immigrant population.
“It’s the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot to get attention,” said Goddard, adding that the proposition would do nothing to stop illegal immigration. “People come here for work, not for benefits.”
Like a host of other government officials, Goddard cautions that the prohibition on public benefits for illegals could be seen as denying access to parks or libraries, or even the services of the fire department, dangerously isolating undocumented immigrants from the rest of society.
The initiative’s authors made sure the ban did not include any federally mandated services—such as elementary and high school education and emergency medical care—that a federal court cited in striking down California’s Proposition 187.
But Arizona’s top health officer warns that Proposition 200 could “force sick individuals underground,” potentially spawning a devastating epidemic.
Gov. Janet Napolitano says the state would have to spend tens of millions of dollars to verify immigration status.
The latest poll shows 42 percent of voters support Proposition 200, with 29 percent opposed and 29 percent undecided.
The poll, conducted by the Social Research Laboratory at Flagstaff’s Northern Arizona University, surveyed 594 voters and has a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points. That’s less support than a mid-July poll conducted by a different organization, which showed a strong majority favoring the measure.
The PAN initiative has made the state a national immigration battleground for groups that do much of their work on Capitol Hill.
“If it’s passed, it would be a launching pad for similar initiatives in other states,” said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the petition drive that put it on the ballot.
Meanwhile, the Service Employees International Union, which draws many of its members from immigrant workers, has sent volunteers into the fray. And the National Council of La Raza, a Latino rights group, has sounded a national alarm.
“If Proposition 200 is approved, any person who appears or seems to be an immigrant, no matter if they have been here five generations or five years, would be treated with suspicion every time they use any public service,” according to La Raza Executive Director Janet Murguia.
When Alfredo Gutierrez was growing up in a copper-mining town in the mountains east of Phoenix, he was muzzled for speaking the language of his Mexican immigrant mother.
“The teachers put tape on our mouths for speaking Spanish,” said Gutierrez, a former member of the state Senate who is now the most outspoken Hispanic critic of Proposition 200.
His fund raising to try to defeat PAN included a September trip to Los Angeles, where he received pledges of support from businesses such as Wells Fargo Bank and Bank of America, which actively court immigrant customers.
Gutierrez, 59, said he recognized that non-Hispanics had to be the most visible public faces in the push to defeat Proposition 200.
“We knew that if this was going to work, it had to have a face other than Mexican Americans,” Gutierrez said, speaking of a campaign that generated $1.5 million for a 30-day media blitz that began in early October.
The campaign’s most prominent faces, including Republican Sen. John McCain, are Anglo leaders who said that PAN would hurt the state and never achieve its goal of curtailing illegal immigration.
Meanwhile, Gutierrez warns that outsiders with racist intentions are trying to manipulate Arizona voters.
His Exhibit A is Virginia Abernethy, an emeritus professor at Vanderbilt University and self-declared “separatist.”
Abernethy serves on the advisory board of the Occidental Quarterly, a publication whose “statement of principles” includes a declaration that immigration to the United States “should be restricted to selected people of European ancestry.”
Abernethy was named to the PAN national advisory board by Kathy McKee, an author of Proposition 200 who describes herself as “a Quaker Sunday school teacher and Buddhist meditation teacher.”
Gutierrez said he understands the immigration anxiety in Arizona, which over the past year has been stunned by a crime wave spawned by the lucrative traffic in illegal immigration.
There was a rash of shootouts among the traffickers, including a double murder on a street corner six blocks from Neill’s house. A man and a woman were gunned down as they sat in their car in a commercial zone thick with Spanish-language signs, as well as the check cashing stores, pay-day-advance loan shops, “dollar” stores and rent-to-own furniture marts that are immigrant entry points to the cash economy.
Frank Pierson, director of the Arizona Interfaith Network, said the violence has distorted the debate over illegal immigration.
“The anger should be directed at the criminals, not at people who come here to work,” he said.
His organization has encouraged local churches to bring in immigrants to tell their stories of sacrifice and of dedication to hard work and family.
“When that happens,” Pierson said, “there’s a real connection between people.”
At a time when economic forecasters at the University of Arizona report that the state’s biggest challenge may well be the looming shortage of skilled workers, Attorney General Goddard says Arizona needs to invest more in its schoolchildren, who increasingly come from immigrant families.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Education reports that Hispanic children are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to drop out of school between grades 7 and 12.
Pessimism about the unceasing flow of immigrants from Latin America is fueling the anxiety that drives the PAN movement.
There is a widespread panic about demographic and economic forces that are drawing more Arizonans to the wrong side of a widening gap between rich and poor.
“One day we’re going to wake up and wonder what the heck happened,” Neill said.
She said there needs to be a focus on the decline of Phoenix neighborhoods, in addition to the deaths of hundreds of migrants who illegally cross the borderlands desert.
“That’s a tragedy,” she said of the deaths. “But we’ve got another tragedy right here, every day, all around us.
Her husband, Jerry, added: “This has nothing to do with racism. We’re not against the immigrants. We’re just tired of having illegal immigration rammed down our throats.”
Gutierrez said the United States and Mexico should agree to a joint effort to control the cross-border flow—as part of a comprehensive deal that legalizes those who are already here.
He said Hispanic immigrants “are going to reinvigorate this country,” repeating the success of previous immigrant groups whose arrivals were met with foreboding and predictions of doom.
“We need to lift people up, give them a chance to regularize their lives and make a full contribution to this society,” Gutierrez said. “Proposition 200 won’t do that. It will just push them further down.”