The passage of an Arizona immigration initiative requiring verifiable identification to vote or receive public benefits has spurred similar efforts in other states and created panic among some Hispanics, who are questioning whether it is safe to go to work, shop or send their children to school.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF)which successfully derailed Proposition 187 in California in 1994, a measure that also would have blocked illegal aliens from receiving public serviceshas vowed to fight the new initiative, known as the Arizona Taxpayer and Citizens Protection Act.
We lost the battle, but were not going to lose the war, said Daniel Ortega, a Phoenix lawyer and MALDEF spokesman. We should have beaten it at the polls, but I truthfully and honestly believe we will beat it in the courts.
MALDEF plans to ask a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction against the new Arizona law as soon as election results are certified Nov. 22. It will argue that the initiative does not specify what benefits can be withheld and does not detail how much implementing the initiative will cost taxpayers.
Initiative proponents, arguing that illegal immigration in Arizona is out of control, said Proposition 200s passage on Nov. 2 was a crucial first step in reducing a glut of illegal immigration and sends messages to government officials in both Washington and Mexico that illegal immigration will not be condoned.
The initiativeopposed by key elected officials in Arizona, including Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and Republican Sen. John McCain; several Hispanic advocacy groups; labor unions and community and civil rights organizationspassed with 56 percent of the vote.
Stricter border enforcement efforts by federal authorities in California and Texas have funneled hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens into Arizona, where they have placed huge demands on schools, hospitals and other public services.
Janet Murguia, head of the National Council of La Raza, said opponents would have been successful in defeating the initiative if they had more time to reach out to voters. She said the organization continued to be frustrated by the immigration situation, but we want to remind folks this still is not the answer.
And Mr. McCain told CNSNews.com yesterday, I understand the frustration most Arizonans feel with our unprotected border, but I dont think this is the right answer. It could be very divisive.
But Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said the propositions decisive victory was a testament to how strongly people in Arizona and the rest of the country feel about the need to deal with the burgeoning problem of mass illegal immigration.
Voters in Arizona told unresponsive politicians in Arizona and across the country that if they do not address mass illegal immigration, the public is prepared to go over their heads, said Mr. Stein, adding that it was likely that voters in other states inundated with mass illegal immigration will see the passage of Proposition 200 as a model of grass-roots activism that can be replicated in their states.
Randy Pullen, a member of the Republican National Committee who chaired the Yes on Proposition 200 Committee, said passage of the initiative would inspire similar efforts in other Western states and draw the attention of state and national lawmakers.
When you have the governor, your senators and your congressional delegation against it, youre outspent 5-to-1, and you still win . . . its a pretty clear message that people want something done, Mr. Pullen said. We believe this is the beginning of illegal immigration brought under control.
Miss Napolitano said she will sign the bill once it is certified, bowing to the will of the people.
In the days after the initiatives passage, Arizona state officials and Hispanic community leaders said they were deluged with calls from immigrants worried about whether it was safe to go to work, shop or send their children to school.
Head Start leaders in Phoenix said attendance dropped dramatically after Tuesdays vote, including in one class in which only two of 20 students showed up.
Officials at the Maricopa County Department of Human Services in Phoenix said Spanish-speaking teachers and staff members were assigned to call the parents of 2,700 students enrolled in the federal program to assure them their children were safe at school. Head Start spokeswoman Rachel Schultz said attendance is now normal.
Opponents said many immigrants, both legal and illegal, were afraid that because of the propositions passage, they could be stopped at any time and asked for their papers.
The Mexican government said yesterday that the initiative will lead to discrimination based on racial profiling while limiting access to basic health and educational services.
The Foreign Ministry said the initiative doesnt contribute in any way, shape or form to any constructive manner of dealing with the migration phenomenon between Mexico and Arizona.
Meanwhile, efforts are under way elsewhere to duplicate the Arizona success, including in:
• California, where a grass-roots organization known as the California Republican Assembly hopes to gain enough signatures to qualify an anti-immigrant initiative for the March 2006 ballot. The group wants to restore portions of Proposition 187 that prohibited benefits to illegal immigrants not mandated by federal law.
• Georgia, where a group known as Georgians for Immigration Reduction said it was very energized by the Arizona vote and, says spokesman Jimmy Herchek, is watching closely what happens in that states court challenges. Mr. Herchek said draft legislation will be presented to legislators in the near future.
• Colorado, where Defend Colorado Now is drafting a constitutional amendment to prevent illegal aliens from receiving public services other than those involving public safety or life-threatening emergencies. A petition drive is to begin in January 2006, with 70,000 signatures needed to put it before voters.
•Texas, where Texans for Fair Immigration hope to draft legislation similar to the Arizona initiative and lobby state officials to pass it. State laws bars the placement of initiatives on the ballot.
The Arizona initiative requires proof of citizenship when registering to vote and identification when voting in person. It also calls for state and local government employees to check the immigration status of those applying for non-federally mandated public benefits and establishes fines and other penalties for those who fail to do so.
Elvia Díaz, Arizona Republic (Phoenix), Nov. 7
Latino leaders are expressing confidence their plans to block the implementation of Proposition 200 will succeed, in part because they will rely on the team that overturned a similar initiative in California.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the same group that successfully struck down most of the provisions of Californias Proposition 187 a decade ago, is now leading the legal team in Arizona.
The group plans to ask a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction against Proposition 200 after the results are certified Nov. 22. Daniel Ortega, a Phoenix lawyer and spokesman for the group, said he is uncertain how long the courts will take to decide the matter.
Latino leaders Friday vowed to fight back in court after Tuesdays resounding success of the immigration measure at the polls. Voters embraced the initiative as a way to send a national message about illegal immigration.
During a news conference, Democratic state lawmakers and other prominent Latinos urged Arizona undocumented immigrants not to panic, promising to exhaust every legal resource to try to strike down the initiative.
Are we angry? Absolutely, said Lorraine Lee, vice president for Chicanos Por La Causa. But we in the community have a lot of faith in our judicial system.
The leaders said they could have won the election if they had a few more weeks to reach out to voters.
This was a referendum on the problem (of illegal immigration), said Janet Murguia, the head of the National Council of La Raza, the largest national Hispanic civil rights organization. We all continue to be very frustrated by the immigration situation, but we want to remind folks this still is not the answer.
Rep. Ben Miranda, a Phoenix Democrat among the first to come out against the initiative, said Latinos who supported the measure werent properly educated about the true impact it will have.
Frankly, sometimes you vote your pocketbook, said Miranda, responding to questions about Latinos support for the initiative. An exit poll indicated that a slim majority of Hispanic voters opposed the measure.
Proposition 200 requires Arizonans to prove citizenship when registering to vote and to present identification when casting a ballot at the polls. It also requires government employees to report to immigration authorities suspected undocumented immigrants seeking public benefits. But because the initiative doesnt define the term, courts are expected to decide what programs would be affected and whether it should become law at all.
If the fate of Californias Proposition 187 is any indication, Arizonans may have to wait years before they find out whether some or all provisions of Proposition 200 will go into effect. Though a federal judge put the Californias measure on hold almost immediately after it was approved in 1994, it took three years for the court to strike down most of the provisions.
Randy Pullen, who chaired the Yes on Proposition 200 Committee, said Friday that his group is assembling a legal team to defend the measure.
We always knew we would have to defend ourselves in court if we succeeded at the polls, he said.