Proposition 200's Limited Effects on Arizona

In Arizona, a law called Proposition 200 — approved by voters a year ago — requires voters to present proof of U.S. citizenship at the polls. It also limits public benefits for undocumented immigrants. But the law has had limited practical effect so far.

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Tuesday is Election Day, although this is an off year: just two races for governor, in New Jersey and Virginia, and a handful of big-city mayoral races. In Arizona, municipal elections this season were supposed to be different. A new law approved a year ago called Proposition 200 requires voters to present proof of US citizenship at the polls. It also limits public benefits for undocumented immigrants. NPR's Ted Robbins reports that the law's practical effects have been limited.

TED ROBBINS reporting:

For weeks, early voters have been trickling into the Tucson City Hall to cast ballots in the upcoming municipal election.

Unidentified Man #1: This is your ballot, and then there are candidates on one side and propositions on the other.

ROBBINS: These voters do not have to prove their citizenship, even though that was the intent of Proposition 200. Pima County elections director Brad Nelson says the law effective exempted about half the people who vote.

Mr. BRAD NELSON (Elections Director): In Proposition 200, all it said is that everyone who shows up at the polls--emphasis on the polls--must show identification. Early voting through the mail and early voting at the satellite locations--no ID necessary whatsoever.

ROBBINS: Even at the polls, the law won't take effect next Tuesday. That's because the US Department of Justice had to clear the rules, primarily which identification will be acceptable, and that was not done in time to train election workers. Randy Pullen is chairman of Yes on 200; he's upset.

Mr. RANDY PULLEN (Political Activist): Course I am. I mean, we should have had this thing taken care of months and months ago.

ROBBINS: But Pullen says the main filter against voter fraud comes when people have to prove they're citizens at registration. In fact, thousands of voter registration forms have been rejected around the state because of improper identification. In Pima County, 2,200 forms have been rejected this year, but Pima County registrar of voters Chris Roads says they're weren't submitted by illegal immigrants.

Mr. CHRIS ROADS (Registrar): I took a look at--through the forms, and I did not have one foreign-born place of birth on any of those forms that we had rejected. So what we're doing in my mind and from what the records show to us is we're rejecting voter registration forms from United States citizens.

ROBBINS: Mainly because of documents like drivers' licenses with old addresses. Proposition 200 also stopped undocumented immigrants from receiving state aid in a handful of programs, such as cash payments to the disabled and utility assistance for the poor. The Arizona Department of Economic Security says that so far only three people have been rejected. But Alexis Mazon, who headed a campaign to defeat Proposition 200, says many more people have avoided seeking even legal benefits.

Ms. ALEXIS MAZON (Political Activist): It's been a horrendous year for immigrants, who are terrified of taking their kids to programs, of getting health care for themselves, even though Prop 200 doesn't apply to health care in any way, shape or form.

ROBBINS: But Proposition 200 was just the start. More than 25 bills were introduced in the Arizona Legislature last session and several passed, further restricting illegal immigrants' rights and benefits. Yes on 200's Randy Pullen says even Arizona's governor, who opposed Prop 200, changed her tune this year by calling a state of emergency along the border.

Mr. PULLEN: So, I mean, it has had a huge effect at the state level, things that should have been going on years and years ago that are now just beginning to occur. And that's too bad that we have to do something like this in order to get our political leadership to agree to do what they should have been doing all along.

ROBBINS: But opponent Alexis Mazon says the efforts are only masks for racism.

Ms. MAZON: Well, Prop 200 was never completely about cutting off immigrants from social programs and public benefits. It was more about advancing a very particular anti-immigrant agenda based on fear and intimidation.

ROBBINS: Since the passage of Arizona's Proposition 200, illegal immigration has been gaining steam as an issue. Congressional leaders promise to debate it next year, and at least 15 other states are considering putting similar measures on their 2006 ballots. Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

LYDEN: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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