October 27, 2004
Hispanic activists are hoping anger at Proposition 200, the initiative targeting illegal immigrants, will spur more Hispanics to vote Tuesday.
They are encouraged when they hear from people like 45-year-old Chandler resident Maria Isabel Barron, a Mexican-born U.S. citizen who will be voting for the first time.
Barron said she and other legal residents worry about the potential impact on family and friends who have come into Arizona illegally.
"The government needs to help them more, so they can stay here and work," she said in Spanish.
Proposition 200 would require people to provide proof of citizenship to register to vote, and to show photo identification to vote at the polls. The initiative also would require state and local officials to verify residency before offering "public benefits," and to report people applying for those benefits suspected of being illegal immigrants to federal authorities or risk being charged with a crime.
While political polls have shown general widespread support for the initiative, opponents have gained some ground in recent weeks with a million-dollar campaign blitz. The outcome of Tuesday’s statewide vote also is in doubt because of a court hearing scheduled for today on a lastminute allegation that Proposition 200 is on the ballot illegally because most petitions were gathered with the wrong version of the initiative.
Hispanic political leaders have claimed for more than a year that Proposition 200 would result in discrimination against Hispanics. They’ve also said some of its supporters are racist. But Hispanic leaders have generally avoided making those charges in public, ever since they were sharply attacked for claiming racism when initiative supporters started circulating petitions in the fall of 2003.
Instead, Hispanic critics of the measure have focused on perceived flaws in the initiative, such as the cost, projected to be tens of millions of dollars by state agencies that would have to enforce its provisions.
"Anytime anybody is going to be hit in the pocketbook, that is a reason to be very concerned," said Sam Esquivel, state director for the League of United Latin American Citizens. "What they are seeing is not only the way it’s going to affect many families, but what the Hispanic community is looking at it is going to affect the entire community through increased taxation. Without a doubt, it’s going to be costly."
But limited polling research shows Hispanic voters are split on Proposition 200, also known as the Protect Arizona Now initiative. Many who have migrated legally or whose families have lived here for generations are frustrated that an estimated 3,000 immigrants cross the Arizona border illegally every day.
"That probably is producing some higher level of concern about that measure in this election," said Valley pollster Earl de Berge. "But whether that energy is for or against the measure is another matter. Latinos are divided on it here just as they were in California."
De Berge is referring to California’s Proposition 187, another initiative targeting illegal immigration that narrowly passed a decade ago but has remained largely unimplemented because of legal challenges and political problems.
Early polling for Proposition 187 showed California Hispanics also were almost equally divided, said Rodolfo Espino, an assistant professor of political science at Arizona State University.
"Latinos actually reflect mainstream opinion on immigration," Espino said. "Legal residents and naturalized citizens support immigration reform. They make the same arguments against illegal immigration as mainstream Americans."
Opinion among California Hispanics shifted against Proposition 187 in the last three months of the campaign when advertising appeared to invoke racism by highlighting fears that Spanish speakers might take over, Espino said. While the initiative passed, the aftermath is credited with sparking a shock wave in California politics as some Hispanic communities became more active and starting voting in larger numbers.
Espino said recent Arizona ads supporting Proposition 200 might have a similar effect. One television ad released Friday by the Protect Arizona Now campaign says some arguments of initiative critics "are insulting to anyone who reads and understands English."
"If word about this ad gets out, it might trigger a backlash among Latino voters," Espino said.