Immigration Law Faces Court Fight; Arizona Statute Curbs Benefits for Illegal Aliens

Article excerpt

Byline: Jerry Seper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

An immigration initiative approved in Arizona that sets voting and public benefit standards no other state has yet adopted is expected to be vigorously challenged by civil rights groups and Hispanic advocacy organizations after the law is certified today by the Arizona Secretary of State's Office.

Proponents have promised an equal fight to ensure that the will of the voters is upheld.

Drafted last year by a coalition known as Protect Arizona Now, Proposition 200 - which was approved Nov. 2 with 56 percent of the vote - was billed as a way to bypass state lawmakers to put a measure on the ballot to prevent fraud among voters and in state and local public-benefit programs.

The initiative makes four key statutory changes in Arizona law, including proof of citizenship to register to vote, proof of identity to vote, verification of identity and eligibility to receive public benefits, and the mandatory reporting of illegal aliens to federal immigration officials.

A number of organizations, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), which successfully sought the striking down of a similar California initiative in 1994 known as Proposition 187, have organized legal teams to fight the Arizona initiative in court.

Hector O. Villagra, regional counsel for MALDEF, urged Arizona residents to "remain calm and continue to access all government benefits and services as normal" while the organization researched the "legality of Proposition 200" and studied potential legal challenges "to prevent it from ever taking effect."

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, an early critic of Proposition 200, is expected to sign a proclamation declaring the new law in effect "within a week or two" after a canvass of the Nov. 2 election results tomorrow. She told reporters last week that despite her opposition, she was "bowing to the will of the people. …