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Prop. 200 win inspires other groups across U.S.
Released 11 November 2004  By Yvonne Wingett

Arizona's decisive passage of Proposition 200 is inspiring similar anti-illegal immigration efforts across the United States, sweeping east from California to Georgia.

Despite the inevitable court battle here, organizers of copycat efforts elsewhere say it has emboldened their already formed groups to collect signatures, strategize, raise money, expand membership base and garner support from state lawmakers.

Organizers here said the interest echoing across the country signifies a mounting movement fueled by widespread public infuriation with lax border enforcement. Anti-illegal immigration groups from Tennessee to Utah want to pull up the welcome mat, seal the southern borders and "take our country back."

"We're watching Arizona very closely, it's one of the vanguard states," said Jimmy Herchek, of metro Atlanta and a member of Georgians for Immigration Reduction. "People are very energized right now. They see the tide turning."

About 30 grass-roots groups at various degrees of organization are associated with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the national anti-illegal immigration group funded much of the Proposition 200 campaign. FAIR uses these groups to mobilize its national agenda of opposition to amnesty or guest-worker programs, an end to or decrease in immigration and improved border security. With a membership of 70,000 nationally and 5,000 in Arizona, the groups intend to tell politicians the American appetite for illegal immigration is saturated.

As written, Proposition 200 would require proof of citizenship when registering to vote and applying for public benefits, though it does not define what services would be affected. Some supporters have maintained it applies only to welfare benefits, but critics believe it would affect everything from immunizations to water and fire services.

The measure would also make it a crime if public employees fail to report undocumented immigrants seeking benefits. However, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a Latino-based advocacy group based in Los Angeles, said it will ask a judge to issue a preliminary injunction against the proposition after the results are certified Nov. 22.

Though the workability and constitutionality of Proposition 200 will be tested and debated, activists across the nation said its acceptance by voters is an evolutionary step in the movement to forge cooperation between federal, state and local governments in deporting undocumented residents and cracking down on the employers who hire them.

Using vague language similar to Proposition 200, they hope to deliver ultimatums to federal and state legislators like Arizona did on Election Day: Fix the problem at the border, or we'll do it ourselves.

"Things are turned upside down," said Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, the group that founded the Save Our License Initiative.

Lawmakers there "are scared of touching it. Now we're going to take it out of their hands completely," he said.

Spence and his group have gathered 100,000 of the needed 600,000 signatures they will need by Feb. 20 to put the measure before voters.

The Save Our License Initiative would deny illegal immigrants driver's licenses, government IDs, college fees or tuition exemptions, contracts, loans or any other non-federally mandated public benefits. By stripping away public benefits, taxpayers save and foreigners lose the incentive to travel and stay north of the border.

Similarly, Defend Colorado Now is working on a constitutional amendment to prevent undocumented residents from receiving "public services" other than those directly related to public safety or life-threatening emergencies. In January 2006, they will start collecting the 70,000 signatures needed to put it before voters.

Organizers there followed the Proposition 200 campaign. So did immigration experts across the country. Expert Tamar Jacoby believes a low double-digit win rather than a higher margin will intimidate other grass-roots efforts.

"It costs a lot of money to get a vote," said Jacoby, a policy analyst with New Jersey's Manhattan Institute who estimates that similar efforts would cost about $1 million. "That will have some dampening effect."

Proposition 200's welcome reception by Arizona jelled resolve among grass-roots groups, activists said. Supporters of the local initiative 200 provided the groups with a "how-to" guide and energized the groups.

"I don't think there's any doubt that a lot of people will want to do the same thing," FAIR President Dan Stein said. "It certainly inspires activists to become involved."

People can call and write their congressmen for only so long before they look for something more effective, he said. But it's too early to tell if FAIR will bankroll similar efforts, Stein said, because they are costly and risky. In Arizona, the proper factors were aligned, he said: At one point it was considered a swing state, it has influential legislators and it's a border state.

"We'll learn from each other's mistakes," said Stein, from FAIR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. "People are going to learn from Arizona and take action much more quickly."

Yvonne Wingett
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 7, 2004

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