Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/thu/30710editimmigrants.html

A nasty battle
Arizona Daily Star
July 10, 2003

It is apparent that the state is about to undergo a feverish round of immigrant bashing much as California did in 1994. A Phoenix group, which calls itself Protect Arizona Now, announced it will start circulating an initiative petition that prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving state or local public assistance. This is an issue that promises to divide the state racially and will be fought at the basest level of political debate. It has already begun.

If the initiative passes, nothing essentially will change. Illegal immigration will continue at its current, if not an accelerated, rate. The initiative may, however, somehow mollify Arizonans who view the illegal immigrant influx as an enormous threat to hearth, home and pocketbook. But that's about all.

The organizers of Protect Arizona Now say their measure is similar to Prop. 187, a California initiative that voters approved in 1994. It passed by a 60 percent margin. That initiative about five years later was declared unconstitutional for three reasons: It violated the Constitution's Supremacy Clause by intruding on federal primacy regarding immigration law. It violated the Fourteenth Amendment because it ordered deportation of illegal immigrants without due process. It denied education to undocumented children, which violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

Protect Arizona Now says it has avoided these constitutional pitfalls. Its initiative prohibits giving housing subsidies or library cards to illegal immigrants. It also requires Arizonans to show proof of citizenship before registering to vote and before they vote at the polls. It is an odd provision. Illegal immigrants do not generally come to the United States just to vote.

The initiative does not prohibit the children of undocumented workers from schools. And it does not prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving emergency  medical treatment - elements of Prop. 187 that were declared unconstitutional.

The proposed Arizona initiative does, however, require state and local government employees to check whether applicants for services are legal residents. This could conceivably generate constitutional challenges based on the notion that the state is fiddling with immigration policy. The fact that state and local employees must decide whether individuals qualify raises the question of how they will render such decisions. That might violate the Due Process clause.

Protect Arizona Now will appeal to Arizonans like Fred Schoeffler, a retired Scottsdale businessman. He told the Arizona Republic that he was fed up with the federal government's failure to stem the supposed immigrant tide: "I'll sit in the blazing sun for hours if necessary to get enough signatures to place this initiative on the ballot. Illegals come here looking for a free lunch. They are a social burden."

Actually, illegal immigrants come to the United States in search of jobs, not free lunches. That is to say they expect to work for low wages, save what they can by  living meagerly and send savings home.

It's not likely such distinctions will be discussed in the debate over this initiative. Or that they will matter. The tone was set when Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, declared, "This is the most ridiculous, outrageous and discriminate petition  campaign we've seen in Arizona." Opponents said its supporters were "racists" and "uneducated fools."

Rep. Randy Graf, R-Green Valley, contends that opponents have no arguments against the initiative except to accuse its backers of being racist. That, of course, is not true. Graf is not particularly concerned about shades of gray. Neither, apparently is Gallardo.

This issue provokes anger. In California, it moved outraged Hispanics finally to organize, and thousands of them registered as Democrats. That led to the election  of a Democrat as governor. We can't predict the same mobilization of Hispanics will happen in Arizona, but we can foresee a particularly nasty political tussle without much appeal to reason.