Prop. 200 Vote Panics Immigrants

Elvia Díaz, The Arizona Republic (Phoenix), Nov. 5

Arizona Latino leaders say they have been inundated with calls since voters approved Proposition 200 Tuesday, asking whether immigrant parents should send their children to school or whether it’s safe to go shopping.

Representatives of the Valley’s Head Start program said attendance dropped substantially Wednesday as worried parents kept their children home from school. In one classroom, only two children showed up. Normally, there are 20.

Rachael Schultz, spokeswoman for Maricopa County Human Services, said Spanish-speaking teachers and staff members immediately called the parents to assure them their children are safe at school. By Thursday, attendance was back to normal, she said. The agency oversees the Head Start centers.

She said there are roughly 2,700 children enrolled Valley-wide in the federally funded Head Start program, which has served children in the Phoenix area for decades. Citizenship isn’t a requirement.

Representatives of Latino organizations said Thursday that they are urging people not to panic or overreact to the passage of Proposition 200, which should not prevent people from shopping or carrying out most other daily activities.

“It’s a very reasonable fear,” said Thomas Saenz of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The group has said it will ask a judge to issue a preliminary injunction against Proposition 200 after the results are certified Nov. 22.

The initiative requires Arizonans to prove citizenship when seeking public benefits or when registering to vote. Government employees will have to report to immigration authorities suspected undocumented immigrants seeking public benefits

Some of the nation’s most prominent Latinos, including Janet Murgia of the National Council of La Raza, will be in Phoenix today to try to reduce immigrants’ fears. Their strategies include working with Spanish-language media to get their messages across.

Martin Delgado, a legal resident, said he fears for his wife, Antonia, because she’s here illegally. She is among the estimated 300,000 to 350,000 undocumented immigrants in Arizona who, Latino leaders fear, may be forced to go further underground.

“She fears even to go out to walk because anyone can ask her for legal papers,” said Delgado, 33, who works at a grocery store in Phoenix. “She doesn’t have any type of identification, and now it will be harder to go around.”

A decade ago, similar fears prompted many undocumented immigrants in California to keep their school-age children at home and miss doctor visits after voters in that state approved Proposition 187.

And leaders said the same may be happening here.

“There is apprehension and a lot of fear,” said Elias Bermudez, executive director of Centro de Ayuda, a Phoenix non-profit agency that advocates on behalf of immigrants.

Bermudez said undocumented immigrants are calling his office incessantly wanting to know what to expect as a result of Proposition 200.

“I tell them not to fear,” Bermudez said. “I tell them the courts will eventually strike down this law.”

Unlike Proposition 187, which was put on hold by a federal judge almost immediately, the Arizona initiative won’t be challenged in court until election results are certified Nov. 22.

Lawyers preparing the legal challenge said they don’t know how long it will take the courts to decide the fate of the initiative.

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