WASHINGTON -- Arizona officials yesterday began
enforcing a voter-approved initiative to clamp down on illegal immigrants'
receiving public benefits they aren't entitled to, one day after a federal judge
allowed the effort to go forward.
Federal District Court Judge David C. Bury on Wednesday lifted a temporary restraining order that he had imposed in November and denied a request for an injunction. That cleared the way for Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, to begin enforcement of Proposition 200, which passed on Nov. 2 with 56 percent support of voters.
"This is just a huge win for the citizens," said state Rep. Russell K. Pearce, a Republican who wrote part of the initiative.
"I think it's a shot in the arm for all the other states. We no longer have to sit on our hands and say immigration is a federal issue," he said. "Actual immigration enforcement is, but it doesn't mean we can't do anything about illegal immigration."
The initiative requires that those registering to vote prove citizenship and those voting show identification, and it requires state and local government employees to check an applicant's legal residence before allowing him to receive public benefits reserved for legal residents. It also says such employees must report illegal immigrants to federal authorities.
Judge Bury still must hear broader arguments and make a final ruling, but opponents said they won't wait idly. Hector Villagra, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said they will ask a higher court to halt the initiative next week.
"We've been reviewing it this morning, and we do think there are several grounds for appealing, and we will be appealing," he said, although he added that he didn't want to talk about specific problems at this point.
Wednesday "was disheartening, but there is an opportunity now to have three judges of the 9th Circuit review this one judge's ruling," Mr. Villagra said.
The prospect of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals taking the case is not encouraging to the initiative's backers.
"The 9th circus court," Mr. Pearce called the panel, which has a liberal reputation. But he added, "There are some reasonable people on the 9th Circuit," and said Judge Bury's ruling was fairly definitive.
"We crossed our t's, we dotted our i's, we knew we would be challenged and we were very careful," Mr. Pearce said.
Mr. Villagra estimates about 10,000 families will be affected by the initiative if it is kept to the limited scope that state officials have laid out.
The initiative still faces a lawsuit in Arizona courts from one group of its own backers, led by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which wants a broader ban on services than Attorney General Terry Goddard, in a November opinion, said is called for.
Kathy McKee, who led the fight to get the initiative passed, said she actually intended the definition to be somewhere between the five instances in which the state plans on enforcing and the broader federal ban FAIR wants. She said she probably also will go to court to argue for her definition.
For now, though, she said the ruling clears the way for other states to follow Arizona.
"Three states have called me today," she said. "They just have been waiting to see if this was just a frivolous lawsuit. Now that they see that, I believe they are going to go full-speed ahead. And I believe our own elected officials in this state hear footsteps."
In his ruling, Judge Bury specifically disagreed with the federal courts in California that invalidated that state's Proposition 187, a broader ban on benefits to illegal immigrants passed by California voters 10 years ago.
He also said federal law specifically allows for state and local officials to report illegal aliens to authorities.
"Not only are state and local governments authorized and encouraged to communicate with federal authorities regarding an alien's immigration status, any law or regulation which would in any way restrict or limit such communications would be directly contrary to federal law," wrote Judge Bury, who President Bush nominated to the federal bench in 2001.