Arizona Wrestles With Anti-Immigration Initiative

By John Turner Gilliland | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - Arizona voters have spoken, and now the state's Hispanic community -- and state workers -- are waiting to find out what Proposition 200 will mean for them.

The controversial Arizona ballot initiative, which passed last Tuesday, requires individuals to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote and applying for public benefits - but it's not clear exactly what public benefits are included.

Some people say the initiative targets only state welfare benefits - but others say it means everything from immunizations to water service and fire protection, the Arizona Republic reported Tuesday.

State and local workers will be required to give immigration officials the names of anyone who illegally seeks public benefits. In fact, it will be a crime for public employees not to report the names.

According to the Arizona Republic, the Phoenix City Council is expected to vote Wednesday on using its resources to defend any employees who are sued for violating the provisions of Proposition 200.

Arizona's Latino leaders, meanwhile, are scrambling to calm Arizona's Hispanic residents, who are worried that Proposition 200 will lead to their deportation.

Maricopa County Head Start program officials said the day after Prop 200 passed, many concerned parents kept their children home. One classroom reported an attendance of 2 out of 20 children.

Program spokeswoman Rachel Shultz says her department called many of the 2,700 families enrolled in the federal Head Start program to assure them they would be unaffected by the passage of Prop 200, and by last Thursday, attendance was at usual levels.

Opponents say Prop 2000 has prompted fears among immigrants, both legal and illegal, that they could be stopped at any time and asked for their papers.

"It's a very reasonable fear," notes Mexican American Legal Defense Fund spokesman Thomas Saenz. Saenz says his group will seek a court injunction to block Proposition 200 from taking effect, as soon as Arizona's vote is certified on November 22.

Supporters of the measure say it was intended to save the state money and discourage illegal immigration in Arizona.

But opponents worry that the measure will cause hardship for the estimated 350,000 undocumented immigrants living in Arizona.

Latino activists aren't the only ones who oppose Prop 200. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon was quoted as saying, "It will bloat and burden local governments, adding millions to our annual budgets."

And Arizona's senior Senator John McCain told, "I understand the frustration most Arizonans feel with our unprotected border, but I don't think this is the right answer. It could be very divisive.""

Opposition to Prop 200 also extends into Mexico. In a written statement, the Mexican foreign ministry said, "The Mexican government regrets that the proposition passed and expresses its complete opposition to the measure, as it discriminates against individuals based on their ethnic profile and limits their access to basic health and education services."

Similar reaction erupted ten years ago after California passed a similar measure, Proposition 187. Some say the California measure prompted illegal immigrants to go further underground, keeping their children home from school and missing doctors' appointments.

The same thing may be happening in Arizona.

Elias Bermudez, executive director of Centro de Ayuda, an immigrant advocacy group, says his phone is ringing off the hook with worried immigrants concerned about their futures.

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

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