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Arizona to Vote on Immigration Measures

October 18, 2006

PHOENIX (AP) _ Arizona voters weary of their state’s role as the nation’s chief gateway for illegal immigrants will be offered another chance next month to crack down on the financial and societal costs of a leaky border.

A package of four immigration measures on the Nov. 7 ballot would, among other things, expand the list of government benefits denied to illegal immigrants and make English the state’s official language. Polls have shown strong support for the measures.

The proposals come two years after Arizona voters approved a law that prevents immigrants from receiving some welfare benefits.

While immigrants provide the economy with cheap labor, officials have said that Arizona spends tens of millions of dollars each year in health care and education for illegal workers and their families.

The human smuggling trade that flourishes in the state, whose 375-mile border with Mexico is the busiest illegal entry point on the southern frontier, is also blamed for contributing to Arizona’s crime rate. Smugglers are often accused of assaulting, kidnapping or shaking down illegal immigrants.

Opponents of the ballot proposals say that they will not lessen the problems and that illegal border-crossers are being made scapegoats for the country’s failed immigration policies.

Republican lawmakers led the effort to put the measures on the ballot. The main one would prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving state-funded child care assistance, attending adult education classes or getting in-state tuition and financial aid at Arizona’s public colleges.

``If you came from New Mexico or California, you would pay out-of-state tuition,″ said GOP state Rep. Russell Pearce, the driving force behind the package. ``You would pay the full load. Why should the taxpayer subsidize you for higher ed when you are here illegally?″

Opponents said it is unfair to deny in-state status to children who were sneaked into the country by their parents.

Pearce said the proposal to make English the official language and require that government functions be conducted in English is needed to encourage assimilation.

Nicky Calabrese, a grocery store clerk, said it is important for immigrants to learn the language: ``You don’t understand what they are asking for. They are coming over to our country and not speaking English.″

Lydia Guzman of the Coalition for Latino Political Action said the measures send a conflicting message in trying to make English the official language while simultaneously denying adult education classes to immigrants who want to learn English.

``You want us to speak English, but you can’t learn it,″ Guzman said. ``Make up your mind.″

Another proposal would deny bail to people who have entered the U.S. illegally and are charged with serious crimes such as murder, sexual assault and kidnapping. A fourth measure would prohibit illegal immigrants from being awarded punitive damages in civil cases.

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