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The fight for immigrant rights
What do we do after Prop 200?

By Jeff Bale | November 19, 2004 | Page 2

THE STRUGGLE around immigrant rights is just beginning in Arizona--and the nation.

In the recent election, the anti-immigrant Proposition 200 passed in Arizona with a small majority. The initiative is among the most draconian to surface in recent years, requiring people to prove their citizenship just to vote or apply for "public benefits." It also promises to fine or jail public employees who fail to act as immigration cops and report violators.

Supporters of Prop 200 said the referendum would counter fraud, but the real fraud is just beginning.

The phrase "public benefits" is so broad that no one is certain just which government services apply. Even Prop 200 supporters are split into two camps in a fight over what their own initiative calls for!

One wing is about to go to court to win the widest definition possible. Potentially, this means that you would have to prove you're a U.S. citizen just to reserve a picnic spot at the local park. More significantly, if a judge backs the broader interpretation, thousands of people could be cut off from health insurance, life insurance and other state contractual programs.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon appeared on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight recently to pledge the city's full legal and financial backing for any city employee charged with violating Prop 200's reactionary rules. This means that while Proposition 200 was sold to Arizonans as a way to save money by cracking down on immigrant "cheats," enforcing the measure will end up costing much more.

Despite all this, right-wingers in other Western states, including Colorado, Utah and Montana, are looking to the victory of Prop 200 as a model for similar initiatives.

In fact, Prop 200 passed only because of financial help offered last summer by the misnamed Federation for American Immigration Reform, the national anti-immigration group. In the spring, the campaign for Prop 200 was stagnating. FAIR threw in its support not only to bail out the measure in Arizona, but to re-raise the specter of immigration as a political issue nationwide.

While many liberals are decrying the November elections as the signal of a rightward shift in the U.S., the experience of Prop 200 paints a different picture. As of late July, the initiative enjoyed some 76 percent support among Arizonans. Even with a half-hearted "no" campaign--and on the most conservative political footing possible--pro-immigrant forces brought that support down to 56 percent by Election Day.

This shows the potential to beat back the lies and racism that anti-immigrant groups use to scapegoat this most vulnerable part of the population.

But to fight back and win, our side needs to do more. We shouldn't concede--as the No on 200 campaign did in Arizona--that "immigration is a problem." Instead, we need a movement that takes on the racism at the heart of initiatives like Prop 200 and that fights for open borders.

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