On Sunday, we explained that four propositions related to illegal immigration on the Nov. 7 ballot are not a substantial move toward tackling the problem as many voters are expecting. We also discussed our opposition to Proposition 100, which deals with the right to bail in criminal cases. Today, we review the other three ballot measures on this issue.
Standing in civil actions
This state constitutional amendment would deny any punitive damages in civil lawsuits filed by illegal immigrants. This measure was inspired by Jack Foote, a member of Texas civilian border patrol group called Ranch Rescue, who lost his Arizona ranchland after he was sued for pistol whipping an illegal immigrant.
This outcome demonstrates how the legal system cries out for reforms to rein in the award of punitive damages that have spiralled out of control. Foote wasn't able to appear court to defend himself in the civil case because was in jail on criminal charges related to the assault. He deserved to be punished, but his only real asset shouldn't have been taken away and handed over to people Foote never would have encountered if they had not entered the U.S. illegally.
Critics point out voters have rejected previous attempts to repeal the right of punitive damages in the state constitution as a way to punish outrageous actions by individuals and corporations and to deter repeat offenses. But illegal immigrants still would have the right under this measure to sue for real damages caused by bad treatment, including property destruction, medical expenses and lost wages.
As such, Prop. 102 is a reasonable step toward desperately needed tort reform.
English as the official language
This state amendment is intended to repair the flaws of the 1988 constitutional amendment that requires Arizona governments to conduct business in English. As we explained Aug. 6, this measure is still largely symbolic because it includes so many exemptions that it would provide little direct pressure on immigrants to learn English.
We agree with proponents that we need a single, common language for our country to be the most successful, and immigrants should be to encouraged to adopt English as their own. That's why we support the expensive challenge of proper grade school education of the children of all immigrants, regardless of how they arrived, and requirements that adults learn English before they can become permanent legal residents.
But the fears driving Prop. 103 — that Mexicans and other Latin Americans aren't assimilating — are irrational. A new study of Spanish-speaking immigrants in southern California found that by the third generation, 96 percent of their descendants are speaking English instead, according to The Associated Press.
And Arizona already has the symbolic message of an official language in the state constitution. So we suggest voters vote "no" on Prop. 103.
Public program eligibility
This measure would expand slightly the list of state welfare programs that must verify the legal residency of participants, building on the voter-approved initiative of 2004.
We support the inclusion of adult education classes and child day-care subsidies as consistent with the public's expectations from passage of the Protect Arizona Now measure two years ago.
Critics of Prop. 103 are upset by another section that would require students without legal residency to pay out-of-state tuition at state universities and community colleges, even if they graduate from Arizona high schools. They argue this change essentially would make college unaffordable for teenagers brought to this country as young children by their parents, and then raised and educated as Americans.
But recent tuition increases have made college less affordable for everyone. We support the idea that anyone with an Arizona high school diploma can attend public higher education, but the state isn't going to make it easier for foreign-born students without proper residency than for U.S. citizens from other parts of the country.