Prop. 200 applies only to welfare programs, AG says

Associated Press
Nov. 12, 2004

Paul Davenport

The provisions of a newly passed state initiative aimed at keeping illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits are limited, applying only to some welfare-related programs, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said Friday.

Proposition 200 opponents and some supporters had argued that it would apply to numerous state and local programs, ranging from library cards to admittance to state parks, but Goddard said otherwise in an advisory legal opinion.

Approved by voters on Nov. 2 and expected to become law later this month, Proposition 200 requires proof of immigration status when applying for public benefits. It also requires public employees to report suspected illegal immigrants who try to obtain benefits.

The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid health care program for poor people, asked Goddard to explain the meaning of Proposition 200's reference to "state and local public benefits."

Goddard said the wording was unclear but that he decided that only programs under Arizona's welfare law are covered because Proposition 200 only amended that law. However, even many welfare programs, including food stamps and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, are exempt because they are federally required, he said.

Goddard said his office is still studying other welfare programs but said Proposition 200 may apply to some that provide housing and rental assistance and another that provides small cash stipends to disabled people awaiting Social Security benefits.

Proposition 200 does not apply to AHCCCS or other programs authorized under non-welfare laws because Proposition 200 did not amend either the laws that cover all state government or those dealing with other specific programs, he said.

Goddard's opinion was eagerly awaited by other state agencies and local governments throughout Arizona.

Supporters of Proposition 200 are divided on whether its provisions apply only to welfare programs.

Kathy McKee, chairman of a group that led the campaign to put the initiative on the ballot, said drafters purposely limited its reach to avoid setting the stage for a successful court challenge.

"He got it dead on the money," McKee said of Goddard's opinion.

Randy Pullen, chairman of another group that campaigned for Proposition 200, has said it should also extend to retirement, disability, public housing assistance, post-secondary education, food assistance, unemployment benefits, grants, contracts, loans, drivers' licenses and hunting licenses.

Pullen previously said his group will argue that position while attempting to help defend the law from an expected legal challenge. He did not immediately return a call Friday.

Opponents argued during the campaign that the initiative could affect numerous programs and services, and state officials said before and after the public vote that they didn't know its reach.

Goddard's opinion won't be the last word on the matter because Arizona attorney general opinions are advisory and not considered binding on courts.

However, such opinions provide public employees with guidance and protection under state law unless a court rules otherwise.

Opponents have said they will go to court to block the measure after the vote is certified Nov. 22. The benefits provisions will take effect sometime after the canvass once Gov. Janet Napolitano declares the measure to be law.

Proposition 200 also will require people to produce proof of citizenship when registering to vote and an ID when casting their ballots, but those provisions won't take effect until after a federal review intended to protect minority voting rights.

Napolitano's top lawyer said Thursday that state employees can't be held liable for work actions if they tried in good faith to follow Goddard's interpretation of Proposition 200.

While opponents say Proposition 200 does nothing to stop illegal immigration, supporters say it will help keep illegal immigrants from fraudulently obtaining government services and draining taxpayer money.

Arizona is the busiest illegal entry point on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The measure won't apply to emergency services and kindergarten through grade 12 education since they are mandated by federal law.

Arizona residents must already provide birth certificates or residency documents when applying for food stamps and cash assistance, the two largest programs.


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