Arizona: Migrant issues go to voters

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Oct 30 13:48:02 UTC 2006

Migrant issues go to voters

By Dennis Welch, Tribune October 29, 2006

Republican lawmakers are hoping Arizona voters can accomplish what they
haven't been able to during the past two years:  approve a handful of
immigration-related measures aimed at cracking down on people living here

At the beginning of the year, many prominent GOP legislators had their
sights set not only on the upcoming elections, but also on cracking down
on illegal immigration. They introduced dozens of bills, ranging from
tough sanctions on employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers to
giving law enforcement agencies the authority to arrest illegal immigrants
under state trespassing laws. But in the end, the bills fell under the
veto pen of Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano. As the legislative session
ground to a halt in late June, Republican lawmakers salvaged the effort by
voting to put four immigration-related measures on the Nov. 7 ballot. Two
of the measures were derived from bills the governor had rejected. One
would amend the Arizona Constitution to make English the states official
language, and another would bar illegal immigrants access to public

The other two ballot measures would amend the state constitution and
require a vote of the people. Those would prevent illegal immigrants from
collecting punitive damages in court and prevent them from being released
on bail if arrested.


Proposition 103 would declare English as the official language and
prohibit some government agencies from conducting official business in
other languages. The concept isn't new to the state; Napolitano rejected a
similar measure in 2005. And in 1988, voters approved a measure declaring
English the states official language. But it was ultimately declared
unconstitutional by the Arizona Supreme Court because it was too broad and
would have prevented elected officials from communicating with voters in
another language. Supporters of Prop. 103 say it would encourage new
residents from other countries to learn the language. Opponents claim
theres no real benefit to declaring an official language.

Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, said he believes the measure would be good
for the state. I think in the United States we have our own language. Its
the official language thats spoken in commerce and business, and I think
it benefits our country, he said. However, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix,
said the measure, along with the other three immigration-related
propositions, are nothing but meaningless political posturing. Its a
useless measure. It does nothing but perpetuate a stereotype that migrants
are lazy and don't want to take the time to learn English, she said.


Proposition 300 would prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving in-state
college tuition, state-subsidized child care and adult education services,
such as English classes. If approved by voters, state agencies would be
required to confirm a persons residency status when processing
applications for state-subsidized services. The measures opponents,
including some student groups and the Valley Interfaith Project, say it
would do nothing to address the issue of illegal immigration, and would
create an uneducated society. Sen. Dean Martin, R-Phoenix, sponsored the
ballot initiative, which he says would ensure precious tax dollars are
saved for legal residents. We've only got so much money to go around and we
need to make sure were putting those who follow the law first, he said.
There should be a benefit for following the law. Why would you go through
all that (immigration)  bureaucracy and red tape if you'll get the benefits

He insisted the measure wouldn't target Hispanics and wasn't about race or
ethnicity. This isn't about where you came from, its about how you got
here. We want you to come from anywhere, but you need to do it legally to
get benefits, he said. But Julie Jorgensen, who teaches adult English
classes in Mesa, dreads the impact the proposition could have on her
program, where she admits many students probably are living here
illegally. If this bill goes through, we have to become immigrant police,
practically. We have to turn in the peoples names who have applied and
didn't qualify, she said. I'm not a police officer. I'm not INS. I'm a teacher
who wants to teach English.


If Proposition 102 passes, it would amend the state constitution to
prevent illegal immigrants from being awarded punitive damages in court.
Supporters say the measure would prevent illegal immigrants from
exploiting the court system. Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, said it doesn't
make sense to allow people living here illegally to file frivolous
lawsuits that result in damage awards meant to punish the offender. We
need to protect the rights of our citizens, she said. We don't want them to
allow those who break the law, these illegal aliens, to profit through
punitive damages at the expense of citizens.

Opponents fear many voters with strong feelings about illegal immigration
will head to the polls and vote for Prop. 102. Its never OK to give
wrongdoers a path, no matter who they are wronging, said Linda Brown, the
executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network.  This is really about
eroding the protections for the community. But some unexpected supporters,
such as the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, don't see the proposition just in
terms of immigration. Farrell Quinlan, the chambers vice president of
policy development and communications, said his organization is backing
the measure not because it targets illegal immigration, but because its
one step closer to tort reform. This is a small step toward the overall
solution, he said.


Voters also will have to decide if illegal immigrants arrested on a felony
charge deserve the right to be released on bail. As supporters and
opponents of Proposition 100 weigh the measures pros and cons, they are
butting heads over the larger issue of illegal immigration, which has
prompted many heated debates in Arizona. Supporters argue that its
necessary because illegal immigrants will leave the country if they aren't
held without bail. Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who is chairman
of Yes on 100, said the proposition is an appropriate response to the the
problem of illegal immigrants fleeing after posting bail or being deported
by federal authorities. Far too many illegal immigrants accused of serious
crimes have escaped justice while out on bail, Thomas said.

I believe very strongly that the right to bail is a fundamental
constitutional right, he said. It is not a right with which we should
tamper with readily, but the need for change in this area is clear and
this is a limited scope. Those against the proposition say they fear
illegal immigrants charged with crimes will be denied their freedom until
proven guilty. Richard Stolz, treasurer for Campaign for Community Change,
said the measure would put additional and necessary pressure on
already-overcrowded jails. (It would) create additional expense when such a
program isn't necessary, he said.

Stolz said the proposition removes the discretion of judges, who often
determine whether or not a person can be released on bail, and creates a
climate of fear among illegal immigrants. With certain exceptions, under
the constitution all people charged with a crime are eligible for bail.
The proposition would allow illegal immigrants arrested on a felony to be
added to a list of violent offenders who are currently denied bail.


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