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Issue Date:  October 29, 2004

Arizona bishops oppose proposition

Initiative will not solve complex immigration problems, says statement


A proposition before Arizona voters Nov. 2 intended to prevent undocumented workers from voting or receiving some government benefits will do nothing to solve “the complex immigration problems” of Arizona, according to the state’s bishops.

If passed, the proposition would require government employees to report any knowledge of undocumented workers to authorities or face a fine and up to four months in jail.

The proposition would require that voters present valid identification whenever they go to the polls. Arizona would become the only state to require proof of citizenship before a citizen can register to vote.

In a statement issued by the Arizona Catholic Conference, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted, Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas and Gallup, N.M, Bishop Donald Pellote said, “Despite the intense rhetoric surrounding this proposal, Proposition 200 is largely a symbolic issue that will do nothing to solve the complex immigration problems facing our state or reduce the number of immigrants crossing the border.” Pellote’s Gallup diocese includes two Arizona counties.

The initiative, known as Protect Arizona Now, faces public opposition from Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, Republican Sen. John McCain, the leadership of both the state’s Democratic and Republican parties, Arizona Interfaith Network and a host of mainstream religious leaders.

However, the most recent polling data, by the Social Research Laboratory at Northern Arizona University released Oct. 15, showed 42 percent of the public in favor, 29 percent opposed and another 29 percent of likely voters undecided. The poll had a 4.1 percent margin of error.

The proposition “is talking about tangential questions,” Kicanas told NCR. “I have no reason to think many undocumented individuals are voting. We need a comprehensive immigration proposal to address the fundamental questions, which are how do you satisfy the needs of our employers for help, how do we assist those people desperate for work, and how do we address family unity?”

One consequence of our current system, Christian Br. Charles Fitzsimmons told NCR, is that “almost every undocumented family has been split up by the border.”

Fitzsimmons heads the social ministry programs at St. Matthew Parish in downtown Phoenix where, he says, about half of the parish’s 900 families are undocumented.

State Rep. Randall Graf, the Republican majority whip, said the proposition is necessary because “we must have things in place to make sure our voting process is secure.” He pointed to two publicized incidents, one in Yuma, Ariz., the other in Peoria, Ariz., in which undocumented immigrants had voted in past elections.

As for restricting welfare, Graf said, “With the 1996 welfare reform act, Congress essentially turned welfare over to the states. So we’ve got eligibility requirements in place, including those based on citizenship or legal residency. But we don’t follow through on those. We verify income levels, but we don’t adequately verify legal residency. This proposition will help us to do that.”

Fitzsimmons said the proposition would harm the state. “There is going to be lots of litigation over the proposition if it passes. Financially, it will hurt us because there will be costly setup and monitoring procedures to check citizenship. And ultimately it will give a divisive aura to Arizona,” he said.

Graf agreed that the proposition, if passed, will end up in the courts. “The opposition lost two court battles to keep it off the ballot. It will be in the courts within days of passing Nov. 2.”

The proposition, Graf said, is designed to save Arizonans money because undocumented workers should not be receiving welfare benefits. “And if we allow fraud, it is expensive.”

Fitzsimmons said the proposition is so vague that it could put all public employees in the role of border patrol agents “under the threat of jail.”

He said another “worst-case scenario is that all kinds of public benefits would be denied undocumented workers. Those who proposed the proposition say that’s not true. But it is very vague. We fear after it passes there could be a move to cut off benefits including police protection, fire protection, sanitation, inoculation, access to parks, libraries, even dogcatchers.”

According to research group ThinkAZ, the proposition never fully defines which public benefits would be denied undocumented workers. The report, Shirley Gunther of ThinkAZ told The Arizona Republic, was written after four months of study so that voters would understand all the propositions on the 2004 ballot.

ThinkAZ said the proposition would face legal scrutiny under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which abolishes any law that may prevent minorities from voting.

Kicanas noted that since October 2003, 221 immigrants have died in the Arizona desert. “The increased surveillance has simply moved people into more remote desert regions.”

Graf said that the solution to the problem of illegal border crossings is “more manpower and better technology.” He said, “The government admits that they only apprehend one in four [undocumented immigrants] now. We have to be concerned about terrorist attacks. The federal government is not fulfilling its duty.”

Asked if he was swayed at all by the number of religious leaders coming out against the proposition, Graf, a catholic, said, “I can understand the compassionate views they take. But we’re not advocating taking advantage of anyone’s civil rights. We are a sovereign country. We need to work within the confines of the laws.”

Fitzsimmons said neither he nor the Arizona bishops, nor any of the state’s political leaders are calling for an open border. “The way things are, nations need to regulate their borders. That’s clearly true. But the situation right now is unregulated with thousands of undocumented workers coming across daily. This needs to be addressed. But Prop. 200 won’t do that.”

Gill Donovan is a freelance writer living in Prairie Village, Kan.

National Catholic Reporter, October 29, 2004

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