"I think it is a duty in those entrusted with the administration of their affairs to conform themselves to the decided choice of their constituents.” -- Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, 1785.
The frustration Americans feel with their elected representatives over the issue of illegal immigration has begun a (small 'r') revolution, a revolution most pronounced in those areas that bear the burden of our failed national policy. Using constitutional means to voice their displeasure, a plurality of voters in California recalled Governor Gray Davis earlier this month based in part on his support of licenses for illegal immigrants. That anger is mirrored in the current petition drive in Arizona, in which citizens have crafted a common-sense ballot initiative: Only American citizens should be able to vote or receive non-emergency government services, that is, services paid for with Arizona tax dollars.
Frustrated with the moves by Democrat Governor Janet Napolitano and their congressional delegation to reward illegal immigration by granting aliens licenses, government benefits, amnesty and the right to vote, concerned citizens are seeking the signatures of 122,612 registered voters before the deadline of next July 1 in order to add the "Arizona Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act" to the 2004 ballot.
The citizen's group behind the initiative, Protect Arizona Now (PAN), describes the ATCP act as a “citizens' initiative to require proof of citizenship and identity to vote and proof of eligibility for non-emergency medical services.”
PAN spokeswoman Kathy McKee explained that Arizona citizens have reached a point where they feel their government is paralyzed and unresponsive to the overwhelming public demand to deal with the state’s immigration nightmare.
“Some of the immigration issues, like employer sanctions, are strictly under the realm of the federal government, but a lot could be done here locally,” McKee told FrontpageMag.com. “We’re the ones who, after the illegals come across the border, are having to pay through the nose for all these services. And then, of course, there’s the voting problem. So we just decided that we would try to find a way to bypass the political process and the liberal media and take it directly to the citizens of this state, because most people here...know what’s going on.”
PAN would require proof of citizenship before registering to vote and upon Election Day, as well as requiring state workers to check the immigration status of anyone who applies for state services. These measures would present minor changes to the state's constitution and would be applied across the board regardless of race or nationality. People who are already registered to vote would be grandfathered in; thus, it would only affect those who register after the act's passage.
PAN makes a clear case for reform. On the issue of voter fraud, they cite a report by the Republican former Secretary of State Betsey Bayless showing that in 1998 more than 500,000 unverifiable names were on the voter rolls. Bayless went on to ease the ability to register and removed only 65,000 of those names, doing little to fix the problem. In the past, thousands of deceased people have been found to have voted for years after their deaths. One anonymous citizen registered his dog to show the ease of committing voter fraud in Arizona.
Current regulations allow voters to register by mail or over the internet with no proof of citizenship required. Mail-in ballots are common, ensuring those who seek to commit fraud never come into direct contact with any election official. If Napolitano and other Democrats in the state legislature are successful in loosening the requirements to obtain a state drivers license, illegals would be eligible to register to vote through the Motor/Voter Act.
Both the federal "Help America to Vote Act" of 2002 and the Arizona State Constitution require passage of laws that “strengthen the integrity” of voter rolls. As Title 7, Section 12, of the Arizona Constitution states, ”There shall be enacted registration and other laws to secure the purity of elections and guard against abuses of the elective franchise.”
Further impetus for the initiative was made dramatically clear after Gov. Napolitano vetoed legislation that would have required identification to register and vote. She stated her fear that such a law would disenfranchise “poor voters” and implied the bill was intended to violate the civil rights of legal Latino citizens. Naturally, Napolitano ignores the fact that 11 other states already have similar voter ID requirements.
PAN was more blunt. “It was just a bunch of crap,” McKee remarked. “She did it with a lot of fanfare in front of the Association of Latino Elected Officials conference that they had here in front of a largely Hispanic audience. I mean, who is she catering to? What a political gesture.”
McKee went on to explain that they are not asking for a new form of ID to be issued to register to vote but “the same photo ID required to cash a check, apply for welfare, sign a lease, go to the Phoenix city dump, or for goodness sake, even get a video rental card at Blockbuster.”
“I guess (Gov. Napolitano) doesn’t think voting is as precious as going to the Blockbuster or going to the city dump.” McKee said.
The PAN website declares, “Since Governor Napolitano has shown her intention to veto any legislation that fulfills this portion of the Arizona Constitution, the citizens of this state can and will have our constitution enforced.”
McKee added, “If it weren’t for the governor, we probably wouldn’t have to be doing this. She’s made it plain that she’s going to veto anything that the legislature does pass. Why would they want to go through the brutality of getting legislation passed only to have her veto it?”
Equally important is the provision in the referendum that seeks to prevent non-citizens from availing themselves of Arizona's social services. Census data for Arizona estimated the state's illegal alien population at more than 283,000 as of 2000; anti-alien activists claim millions of people illegally cross the Arizona border with Mexico each year, many on their way to California and other states. An unknown number remain in the state. According to a study by FAIR, more than 450,000 people illegally crossing the border were arrested by the Border Patrol in 2001 alone. The number who successfully made the crossing is unknown.
The impact these invaders have had on Arizona's state budget has been staggering. Arizona is currently running a $1 billion dollar deficit. This is the amount Republican State Representative Randy Graf, one of the initiative's supporters, claims illegal immigration cost state and local governments. Arizona simply cannot afford to extend this misguided generosity to illegal immigrants.
While exact numbers are debated by those who support and oppose the referendum, the known facts make a convincing case for the measure. In a two year period, Arizona's Medicare (AHCCCS) costs have skyrocketed from $200 million annually in 2001 to a staggering $1.2 billion in 2003. According to 2001 Census Bureau estimates, approximately 4,400 illegal immigrant households have at least one member fraudulently enrolled in the program. Still, legislators obstinately refuse to even try to determine the exact costs incurred by taxpayers due to the lawmakers’ haphazard and destructive immigration policies.
“The (state) legislature was supposed to convene a subcommittee this summer just to study that very issue: how much is this costing the state? The preliminary figures are that we’re spending $75-85 million a year just to house incarcerated illegal aliens, and we’ve had to build two prisons at about $100,000 a pop just for that overpopulation of illegals who should’ve been deported before they committed these crimes,” McKee explained. But McKee said earlier this year that Arizona House Speaker Republican Franklin “Jake” Flake removed the subcommittee to study the costs from the Appropriations Committee to the Speaker’s Committee.
“He killed it,” McKee said. “So there’s not going to be a study. I don’t know if they would need to convene another subcommittee in Appropriations to revive it but Flake killed the whole thing.”
There is no doubt that these costs are staggering. Federal laws and state court rulings requiring hospital emergency rooms to treat any patient, regardless of medical coverage (or immigration status) threaten any local hospitals with insolvency. Maricopa County Hospital hemorrhages an estimated $2 million dollars every week on this alone. The Tucson Medical Center closed its trauma center and Kino Community hospital stopped providing emergency services due to lack of funding.
Many area hospitals are following suit. Arizona's hospitals report $1.4 billion a year in losses to uncompensated care. Arizona taxpayers have been stuck with a portion of the bill in the past; now in addition to the monetary cos,t they also face a loss of adequate health care for themselves and their families, because the government mandates these hospitals care for illegal aliens. The impact of providing unlimited medical services to the illegal community has cost Arizonans dearly.
“Unfortunately in this state the hospitals are providing everything,” McKee said, noting that the common definition of what constitutes emergency care required by federal law is “a serious life-threatening emergency.
“Yet you go to the emergency rooms in this state, and you’re in for a seven- or eight-hour wait because illegals are there with poison ivy, insect bites, bee stings, bruises and scrapes. A lot of the illegal aliens have fraudulently registered with our state Medicaid program, so they’re going to the family practice clinics and ob-gyn clinics, getting all sorts of family practice care from the emergency rooms and a whole litany of medical services that they are not entitled to.”
In 2001, a University of Arizona study estimated the financial cost of illegals to the Arizona taxpayer. They found that a total cost in Fiscal Year 2001 of over $330 million dollars in three main categories: $140 million in health care costs, $100 million for education and $90 million in criminal justice expenses.
The welfare reform passed in 1996 by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Clinton clearly stated that the only social services that states must provide to illegal aliens are those mandated by state law. Today, Arizona law does not require any financial aid be given those in the country illegally. This has not prevented the issuance of aid in the form of food stamps, housing subsidies and direct cash transfers to aliens. A recent Center of Immigration Studies (CIS) survey of the state estimated the total amount of welfare going to illegals at $380 million dollars.
Opponentsof the initiative claim the tax revenue generated by immigrants makes up for their costs. The pro-immigration Thunderbird Mexican Association estimated total taxes paid by immigrants at $599 million; however, they fail to differentiate between legal immigrants and those in Arizona illegally, a vital distinction. Because many aliens work “under the table,” finding hard data for taxes paid is more difficult than estimating the net cost.
University of Arizona polling found over 70 percent of respondents in support of the initiative, (including 40 percent support among Latino voters) the Republican congressional delegation -- including Senator McCain and Representatives Kolbe, Kyl and Hayworth -- have joined with Governor Napolitano in voicing their opposition. Claiming the responsibility for regulating immigration falls to the federal government alone, they have expressed a position that runs counter to the traditional “state rights” standard the Republican Party normally champions. Whether their concern stems from a legitimate constitutional issues or simply fear of alienating the Latino vote and corporate interests, their opposition stands in stark contrast to the will of the voters.
Both state Republican and Democratic parties have also come out against the measure. This disconnect between average citizens and their political leadership makes passage of the initiative imperative if voters wish their elected officials to take the illegal immigration situation seriously.
According to McKee, the initiative has produced an outpouring of support. “Most people love us,” she said referring to the reception PAN volunteers get as they go about their signature gathering. “Well, not everybody loves us. Obviously the political leaders of both parties don’t love us and the liberal media doesn’t love us but the actual people, just everyday people, love us.”
McKee said PAN has more than 1,000 volunteers, who have circulated 5,000 petitions to date. “The signatures are going well. People just follow us everywhere to sign them."
In addition to the daunting array of foes Protect Arizona NOW faces to get the initiative on the ballot, it will have to face a liberal judicial system that may very well strike down the will of the people.
The language of the initiative resembles California's Proposition 187, which was ruled "unconstitutional" in 1998 by U.S. District Court Judge Mariana Pfaelzer. Claiming that immigration regulation is the sole province of the federal government, she struck down the portions of the measure that required state officials to verify a person's immigration status, effectively gutting the law. While subsequent challenges to the decision were put on hold by Gray Davis, many think the Supreme Court would overturn her ruling. They point to the 1996 federal law, the "Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996," which authorizes state and local officials to report immigration offenses and requires local police to enforce immigration laws as primary offenses. Polling indicates overwhelming support for the enforcement of immigration laws. The government serves at the citizens' pleasure, but when those elected into office fail them, they must shoulder the responsibility of governance themselves. In recent months we have seen citizens rally to patrol and protect our borders, citizens have led a recall that unseated a governor who failed them, and now through the initiative process, average people seek to protect their fellow citizen taxpayers from the abuses their government allows. We the People have the power to effect change in our nation's immigration policy; we have only to use it. In Arizona, the voters may soon do just that.
McKee and her colleagues are also bracing themselves for the inevitable lawsuits challenging the initiative if it passes as it is expected to.
“There is no doubt in our minds that it will be the subject of a lawsuit. But we were careful and I’ve had way too many attorneys...tell us that it is safe,” McKee said. “Unlike (California's) Prop. 187, we’re not creating any new laws or changing anybody’s eligibility. We are only requiring enforcement of eligibility; that’s already the law under the Constitution for over 200 years in this country in order to vote it’s been required that you be a citizen. We’re just requiring that you prove that.”