PHOENIX - The debate over a new initiative designed to curb illegal immigration kicked off Tuesday with an ugly tone as some foes of the measure called it racist.
Supporters said they expected the attack, and stated their case at another gathering.
Several state lawmakers and others, mostly Hispanic, gathered at the Capitol to decry the provisions of the measure now being circulated.
Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, complained that a provision requiring proof of citizenship for public services would affect more than welfare and food stamp programs.
He said the initiative could preclude people from getting police and fire protection although the measure specifically exempts federally mandated services from the ID rule.
Sen. Peter Rios, D-Dudleyville, said a provision to produce identification before voting is unnecessary as there is no proof of voter fraud.
Rios said the measure is aimed solely at the Latino community. And Rep. Ben Miranda, D-Phoenix, said it's even more basic than that.
"I've always refrained from calling these individuals racist," Miranda said, citing House debate rules that forbid lawmakers from impugning each other's motives.
"But what drives them is race," he said. "So to call (House Majority Whip) Randy Graf - and I wish he was here - a racist or an uneducated fool is perfectly on the dot."
Graf, a Green Valley Republican and one of the backers of the measure, said the comments confirm his belief there are no legitimate arguments against the initiative and foes will resort to name calling.
At their own news conference, initiative supporters laid out their contention that those who enter the country illegally are costing taxpayers money.
Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said the state is stuck building schools for the children of illegal immigrants. He said that while the initiative technically would not allow the state to deny schooling based on legal residency, anything that cuts down on illegal entrants would reduce the number of children in public schools.
Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox said federal courts enjoined enforcement of a similar measure approved nearly a decade ago by California voters.
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