PHOENIX – Activists who say illegal immigrants are draining Arizona's coffers by fraudulently obtaining government services are pushing a ballot measure that could throw state workers in jail for turning a blind eye to such practices.
The measure in Arizona, the busiest illegal entry point on the U.S.-Mexico border, is the latest across the nation aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants.
Opponents of the measure say it promotes racial profiling, and insist it would do nothing to stop fraud.
Supporters maintna voters support it.
So far, the issue has gotten much attention. Both sides say they are preparing to launch ad campaigns as the election draws closer.
Under the measure, government workers would face a $750 fine and up to four months in jail for failing to report when people illegally apply for government aid. The measure also requires people to produce proof of citizenship when registering to vote.
Opponents include immigrant rights groups and representatives of hospitals, unions and fire departments. They cite the high cost of enforcing the measure and say it will prove intrusive and burdensome, requiring people to carry multiple forms of identification for everyday tasks, preventing them from registering for government services online and resulting in long lines for social services.
They also believe it could create health risks. Rescue workers fear vaccines would not be given out carte blanche because they would need to see identification first. The measure does not affect things like emergency care or education.
"It's like poisoning our own well to prevent people from drinking our water," said Capt. Billy Shields, president of the United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association.
Masavi Perea, a 29-year-old undocumented immigrant who has lived in Phoenix for 10 years, has been visiting local communities to try to educate residents about the measure. He said the measure is similar to the Jim Crow laws that were used against blacks.
"Immigrants are the foundation of this country," Perea said.
Election officials would not face the same punishment as other government workers. Rather, more precautions to prevent voter fraud would be put in place, such as requiring people to submit copies of their birth certificate or present naturalization records when they register. Now, they just have to write the information on their applications.
"To me, voting is something that is very precious. I don't want my vote canceled by someone who isn't legally here," McKee said.
Arizona's decision will have a lasting effect, perhaps mobilizing the Hispanic community here the way a similar measure did in California in 1994, Merrill said. Voters passed California's Proposition 187, but it was challenged in court and never took effect. Still, it alienated many Hispanic voters from the Republican Party.
"The long-term consequences are huge," Merrill said.
The Arizona measure is likely to face lawsuits, too.