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Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Infighting may hinder getting immigrant initiative on ballot

Infighting may hinder getting immigrant initiative on ballot



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June 8, 2004
Infighting may hinder getting immigrant initiative on ballot

The Associated Press

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PHOENIX - An initiative aimed at preventing illegal immigrants from receiving government services may not make it on the state's Nov. 2 ballot because of infighting within the group backing it.
Backers of Protect Arizona Now have split into two factions, both working separately to gather the required 122,600 signatures by a July 1 deadline. Volunteer signature collectors have gathered about 30,000 signatures while paid circulators for the Federation for American Immigration Reform have roughly 70,000, said Rick Oltman, regional director of FAIR.

If the two groups cannot overcome their differences, the initiative may never reach the general election ballot in Arizona, the busiest entry point along the U.S.-Mexico border for illegal immigrants.

The initiative would require proof of U.S. citizenship to register to vote, cast ballots at polling places and receive nonfederally mandated social services such as welfare.

Currently, the federal government requires proof of U.S. citizenship for welfare only if state agencies suspect an applicant is an illegal immigrant.

The initiative has caused controversy since it was first proposed in July. Backers say it would curb lawbreaking by illegal immigrants while opponents say it is rooted in racism.

Its proponents became divided when a national organization agreed to contribute $150,500 to gather signatures for the initiative.

Kathy McKee, Protect Arizona Now's director, said when FAIR brought their manpower and money to PAN, it was a "hostile takeover" and that FAIR "never gave us a cent."

Rusty Childress, PAN's former treasurer who now works with FAIR, said when FAIR funds an initiative, it decides how to spend the money.

"FAIR gave it to paid petition-gathering companies," Childress said. "I'm sure Kathy would have preferred it be in our coffers but those who have the money make the rules."

If PAN's and FAIR's signatures are not all turned into Secretary of State Jan Brewer by PAN at the same time, the initiative will not make the ballot.

"It all hinges on whether we can merge these petitions at some point," Childress said. "The PAN committee and the FAIR group have the same goals and ideals, and to accomplish those, there's going to be a need for cooperation."

Childress said he has tried unsuccessfully to contact McKee to merge the petitions by the July 1 deadline.

McKee said she is waiting for legal counsel before she responds.

Alfredo Gutierrez, co-chair of the Statue of Liberty Coalition, which exists solely to defeat the initiative, said infighting among the measure's backers is a welcome development.

"I'm enjoying it very, very much," he said. "And ultimately, it will have an impact on the submission of petitions."



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