TUCSON—A federal judge on Wednesday lifted an order barring Proposition 200 from becoming law, clearing the way for state, county and municipal employees to immediately start reporting to immigration authorities suspected undocumented immigrants seeking public benefits.
U.S. District Judge David Bury’s decision allowed Gov. Janet Napolitano to issue an executive order enacting the controversial voter-approved legislation Wednesday afternoon. The decision left some municipal officials across the Valley and state scrambling to prepare workers who will be required to ask all who apply for public welfare benefits for proof of citizenship.
Attorneys for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the legal advocacy group that sued to stop the government from enforcing the initiative, plan to appeal the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco today or Monday. But state officials vowed that the law will go into effect and said workers will be equipped to deal with the new reporting requirements.
“Proposition 200 is now the law of Arizona,” Napolitano spokeswoman Jeanine L’Ecuyer said. “And (the governor) expects that agencies will comply with the terms of 200 and any related issues.”
The initiative requires state and local employees to verify the immigration status of people applying for public benefits and report undocumented immigrants or face possible criminal prosecution.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard issued an opinion that narrowly defined “public benefits” to mean welfare. For example, the Arizona Department of Economic Security administers five programs that are affected by Proposition 200, state officials said. They include General Assistance, Sight Conservation, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Utility Repair, Replacement and Deposit and the Supplemental Payment Program.
Proposition 200 proponents have a lawsuit pending that would expand Goddard’s definition to include considerably more services.
Bury, appointed to the Arizona court by President Bush, sided with attorneys defending Proposition 200, which was approved by 56 percent of Arizona voters Nov. 2. The judge’s decision to lift the restraining order he signed Nov. 30 was assailed by immigrant advocates but hailed by Proposition 200 supporters who gathered outside the Tucson courthouse after a hearing.
‘A huge win’
“This is a huge win for the taxpayers of the state of Arizona, the rule of law and the Constitution,” said Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who helped craft the initiative. “And it sends a message that we have the right to report those people who are in the country illegally, especially when they’re attempting fraud.”
Jesus Garcia, an undocumented immigrant from Sonora, said the proposition already has bred fear and uncertainty in immigrant communities. Garcia, a 47-year-old construction worker who has lived in Tucson since 1998 after spending nearly a decade in the Valley, said his wife is afraid to go to government offices, even though the couple’s three children are U.S. citizens.
“I think it’s racist,” Garcia said. “They don’t understand if (undocumented immigrants) receive help, it’s not for them, it’s for the kids who are U.S. citizens. They’re trying to put pressure on immigrants, and it’s very dangerous . . . because some won’t seek help.”