Targeting Immigrants in Arizona: Prop 200 and the November Election

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As Bush and Kerry intensify their campaign efforts in battleground states, we’ll look at a controversial ballot initiative in Arizona. Prop 200 would require all residents of the state to prove they are citizens to receive any public services and to vote. Public employees would be required to report any undocumented people or face jail. [includes rush transcript]

Both John Kerry and George W Bush have been intensifying their campaign efforts in a handful of so-called battleground states; states whose voters could change the outcome of November’s election-places like Ohio, Colorado, Wisconsin and the state we are broadcasting from today, Arizona. This voters of this state are characterized as being fiercely independent. In addition to the high stakes of the presidential and national elections this year, Arizona voters face a highly controversial measure called the “Taxpayer and Citizen”s Protection Act,” also known as Proposition 200. If passed, the measure would force all Arizonans to present their birth certificate or passports to receive public services and to vote. It would require public employees to report anyone who cannot present these documents to federal immigration authorities. It imposes up to 4 months of jail time on any public employee (including doctors, teachers, firefighters, librarians, social workers and others) who makes an error in enforcing immigration laws.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In a moment, we’ll be joined by Alexis Mazon, who is an organizer with the Coalition to Defeat Prop 200. But first, we want to get an overview of this battleground state where one of the presidential debates will take place with Stephen Farley, a Tucson-based artist and activist. In 1999 he founded the non-profit called Voices: Community Stories Past and Present, which runs after-school programs that employ at-risk youth to interview Tucson residents and publish books and magazines of community stories and photographs. Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. You can give us the lay of the land of Arizona, what you think are the key issues right now?

STEPHEN FARLEY: Well, Arizona is really in flux, and we’re lucky it’s in flux because it’s coming from a pretty sorry past where our legislature is well known as being one of the wackiest in the country. It has legislated such things as putting out bounties for endangered wolves and incentives to encourage companies that produce CFC’s to come to Arizona. And it has been dominated —

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean companies that —

STEPHEN FARLEY: Companies that produce chlorofluorohydrocarbons that had at the time been outlawed internationally, the legislature encouraged them to come to Arizona and produce them. It’s been dominated in large part in the past by some pretty whacky Republicans from the East valley in Phoenix and they’re still there. In fact, in the recent Republican primaries the furthest right candidates were the ones who won. Anybody who actually tried to moderate and compromise with our Democratic governor, Governor Napolitano, was ousted in those Republican primaries, which is not a good sign of the way things are going. However, here in Tucson, it’s one of this few places where it’s safe to be little left of center. We have the most progressive member of Congress is our Congressional representative, Raúl M. Grijalva, who is actually incredible. He’s running for re-election and the Republican that the primaries, the voters in the primaries put against him is a guy named Joe Sweeney, who has been quoted in the local papers as saying: “I hate Mexicans” and, “Hell, yes, I’m a racist.” So, it’s kind of an interesting campaign, and it sums up a lot of the polarization that has been happening in the state. The interesting thing about that polarization, I don’t think the Republicans really fully count on, is that it has mobilized voters to an incredible extent and almost all of the campaigns for progressive causes and democratic causes have been focusing almost entirely on registering new voters to totally change the game, and that’s why I think we have a real opportunity to really break out in this election. We have registered an unprecedented number of Democratic voters outnumbering the Republican registrants by around 8-10 to 1. It’s amazing. And I think what’s going to happen is people are so motivated by the blatant racist appeals by Republican candidates and the Prop 200 advocates, that they’re going to get out there and they are going to vote in record numbers. Cause traditionally we have had trouble with turnout on some of the more Latino parts of Tucson. That’s not going to be the case this time. We’re getting everyone to the polls. We’re going to be turning Arizona blue, indeed.

AMY GOODMAN: In our next segment, we’re going to talk about some young women students who were out trying to register voters. And what happens when a Fox affiliate truck rolled up and a reporter got out and said they could be encouraging people to commit felonies by encouraging out of state students to register. It turned out that that was not the case. That it is not a crime and out of state students can vote. But on other issues, for example, like water in Arizona, how significant is that?

STEPHEN FARLEY: It’s a huge issue, and it’s one that’s being ignored by a large part by a lot of the power structure here because one of the main forces of the economy particularly in southern Arizona is the development industry. We are at ground zero for sprawl in the state. Luckily, the voters were wise enough to pass something called the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan in May. That plan enables the county to buy up endangered open spaces and keep it preserved for all eternity, so the developers cannot simply sprawl and blade all the Sonoran Desert that we have around here. Unfortunately, developers do have an inordinate amount of power in a lot of other areas. One of those is maintaining — making sure that he maintain a water supply or at least maintain the fiction of a water supply. In Tucson here, we are actually up until a couple of years ago, we were the largest civic area in the country totally dependent on aquifer and as we grew at an incredible pace, we grow 2% to 3% a year in population, we were draining that aquifer alarmingly fast. It was quite controversial to what we came in and brought in some water from the Colorado river, to supposedly solve our water problems, but for those of you who you have looked at Colorado river issues, basically the entire southwest is draining off the Colorado river, and at this point dwindles off into nothing before it even reaches the Gulf of California at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Steve Farley who is an activist and artist in Tucson. His organization is called Voices: Community Stories Past and Present. We’re also joined by Alexis Mazon, who is an organizer with the Coalition to Defeat Prop 200. Alexis, welcome to Democracy Now! You can lay out this proposition?

ALEXIS MAZON: Well as you mentioned, Prop 200 will require everyone in our state to start presenting prove of citizenship, which is a passport or a birth certificate or a tribal identity card every time they have any contact with a government agency, a city agency, a county agency, a state agency and the public employees serving Arizonans will now be required to ask for that documentation and assess the citizenship status of everyone who comes in seeking services. And if they make an error in assessing someone’s status or if they refuse to comply with Prop 200, which many of us will as public employees, they can face up to four months in jail at a class two misdemeanor charges.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “which many of you will?” You’re a public employee?


AMY GOODMAN: So, what does that mean? What could you be asked to do? What won’t do you if the proposition will pass?

ALEXIS MAZON: Well, Prop 200 will require us to ask everyone what their citizenship status is and to present proof of it. So, if I don’t — we’ll have to be retrained in federal immigration law, which none of us were hired to enforce in the first place — and if we find that someone is undocumented, under Prop 200, we are required to make a written report to I.N.S., and if we don’t do so, if we don’t report someone, for deportation, we will be faced with criminal charges.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is behind the proposition?

ALEXIS MAZON: Prop 200 comes out of the Phoenix area, a group called Protect Arizona Now, began gathering signatures for this about a year ago. And then they received about half a million from FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. And FAIR came in and paid $3 a signature in Maricopa county primarily. They were able to get enough signatures for the ballot. They have also been receiving support from national white separatist organizations. They have a national agenda. They’re receiving funding from these outside organizations. And the leaders are tied to white supremacist groups and other anti-immigrant groups, anti-Semitic groups that are prominent in national efforts. They’re running anti-immigrant candidates in nine other states. And Tom Tancredo for example in Colorado is involved in this effort, and in fact these same characters were run out of Colorado. In March they had a similar initiative, that was a proposal in the state legislature and it failed there as it will fail here when it will when it’s put to the voters of Arizona. Because we believe that if people find out the truth about what this means for all of us that on a routine basis, the government is going to be intruding into our personal information. When we go to the library to check out a book when we go to the hospital to get treatment, when we take our children to after-school programs, we’re going to be required to present proof of citizenship.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the argument that the Prop 200 proponents have put forward is that they have — they’re pushing for this measure to stop voter fraud and stop welfare fraud. You can respond in both cases?

ALEXIS MAZON: Sure. This is a popular message that they use. But the fact is that there hasn’t been a single case of voter fraud in the state of Arizona by an immigrant. All of the county recorder’s offices of the state have verified this. Welfare fraud is practically non-existent by immigrants. Immigrants take very few government services in the state. They’re prohibited from receiving most public benefits.

AMY GOODMAN: Steve Farley.

STEPHEN FARLEY: In fact it is interesting to me to read recently that the Associated Press discovered that immigrants actually contribute $6 billion a year to the Social Security fund that they never use. And that has added up to over $376 billion in Social Security funds earned by illegal immigrants that have never been used that are currently propping up the Social Security system ourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: These are undocumented workers.

STEPHEN FARLEY: These are undocumented workers who have contributed $376 billion to our Social Security system directly.

AMY GOODMAN: But they actually never get Social Security.

STEPHEN FARLEY: And you never hear about it. They actually never get it. We benefit from it. It’s ironic that they are now looking and saying, they’re draining the economy when in fact they’re helping.

AMY GOODMAN: What would it mean in the next election if this were to pass, when it comes to actually voting? What would you have to do? What kind of ID or do you have show any kind of ID. Right now?

ALEXIS MAZON: You don’t have to currently show ID to vote. You give your name. They look your name up on a list and you’re given a ballot. Under Prop 200, you would be required to present valid ID, and we have one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country. We’re 49th or 50th consistently. We have been under federal monitoring since the late 1970s because of a long legacy of voter abuse and harassment by KKK groups.


ALEXIS MAZON: Arizona. And this is another way to intimidate voters, and it’s another hurdle to put up. We won’t be able to do clipboard registration of voters in the future going door to door, going to public events. We will have to have a copy machine to get people’s documents in order to do that. And what people don’t realize is, there is already a complex system in place. When you submit a voter registration form, they verify signature and address, citizenship and your social security number is required. There’s already a bureaucracy there to verify and insure against fraud. We don’t need this. This is just going to be another barrier to people of color and the elderly and the disabled and other groups from voting in our state.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is opposing Prop 200 in Arizona, in terms of groups and politicians, like for example, Senator McCain, who is Republican, your governor, who is Democrat?

ALEXIS MAZON: We have seen an unprecedented opposition rise up against this because we have had the Chamber of Commerce, the entire Congressional delegation, the Libertarian Party, the Green Party. We have had of course, civil rights groups, church groups, human rights groups, the unions. SEIU has filed two lawsuits against this. We are sitting on a table together to propose and mobilize against Prop 200 with people that we don’t typically sit with. That’s why we’re hopeful that we can defeat this if we can get word out to voters. Our obstacle right now is that about 60% of Arizona likely voters believe the hype that they’re hearing about Prop 200, and are favoring Prop 200, even though we have very broad opposition to it by our leadership and our governor and then our community organizations.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator McCain is opposed?

ALEXIS MAZON: Senator McCain, Senator Jon Kyl and Congressmen Grijalva and Kolbe, people who don’t agree on —

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Kolbe is a Republican?


AMY GOODMAN: Rather a Congress member. Congress member Kolbe, they’re all opposed.

ALEXIS MAZON: They are all opposed.

AMY GOODMAN: But the polls show that it will pass?

ALEXIS MAZON: Well, no, the polls show that right now about 60% of voters are in favor, but most people we have talked to don’t even know about Prop 200 yet. We’re on a mission to inform voters through a ground campaign and air campaign about what this really is, how this is an attack on civil liberties of all Arizonans not just migrant workers. And we believe that if we can get that word out that we will defeat this, resoundingly. This is very much like Prop 187 in terms of what it does. It’s worse in a lot of ways because it criminalizes public employees. It turns everyone in this state into an immigration agent. But we think that unlike in the Prop 187 situation ten years ago with so much multi-partisan opposition, we just need to get the word out to voters about what this will do, and they will vote against it, as we will.

AMY GOODMAN: I was surprised to read an editorial op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal by Tamara Jacoby called, “Flawed Proposition: A Ballot Initiative That’s Bad for Arizona and for America.” She is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, which is an extremely conservative organization that they, too, are opposing Prop 200.

STEPHEN FARLEY: I think that conservatives are afraid this is really showing their true colors. They don’t want that to happen. That’s why the local Republican party had arguments about whether or not they should support this guy Joe Sweeney, who is basically a self-confessed racist, who is running against Representative Raul Grijalva. There is really a —

AMY GOODMAN: He had run — he had attempted to get the nomination many times before.

STEPHEN FARLEY: Oh yeah, he had run 16 different times. And this time he got 70% of the vote in the primary to run against him, which was kind of interesting. The thing is it is issues like this that are really are starting to divide the Republican party here. The far right wing in this state in particular has been overplaying its hand for quite some — quite a few years. And there’s actually a more moderate Republican group called mainstream Arizona that’s been trying to, quote, take back the party for the moderate — moderate Goldwater, amazingly enough — wing, these folks are far to the right of Goldwater. It’s really dividing the party. I think that could be one of the positive things that comes out of this. You see people taking the far right and running with it. All of a sudden there are people — Republicans their whole lives — thinking, wait a minute, what’s going on here? I think that’s a positive thing of something that could come out of something so egregious. One of the most chilling things about this proposition in particular is how this enables anyone in the state to sue any public employee if they suspect that that public employee has not turned in the names of the people they suspect of being illegal. Which creates a situation in which everyone is informing on everyone else within the state. That type of society is incredible. I think that’s part of why even some people on the conservative right are also are opposing this.

AMY GOODMAN: Alexis, the last word.

ALEXIS MAZON: Arizona is a state that has been pummeled by right wing rhetoric, anti-immigrant rhetoric, about border militarization and the need for border security and that fear is what the proponents of Prop 200 are capitalizing on now. There’s no question we have real problems in this state. We have one of the lowest rates of health insurance coverage. People are angry about that and they have every right to be. We have one of the lowest spending budgets for education. Our public services in general are very, very under-funded. That’s a problem and we need to address it. But it’s not fair, and it’s not accurate to blame the migrant workers of this state who contribute hundreds of million more dollars in taxes every year than they take in services, who pay over a billion dollars in rent and mortgage payments every year in Arizona. It’s not accurate to say that they are responsible for this. We have a federal government that is slashing social services and we need to do something about that. But passing legislation like Prop 200 and hate mongering against the most vulnerable groups in our state is not the way to approach this. We know they’re going to be successful promoting this message in other states. Arizona is a border state. We have a unique situation here, but they’re trying to go everywhere with this and we need to defeat it right now so that it won’t get any further.

AMY GOODMAN: Alexis Mazon, I want to thank you for being with us, with the organization Coalition to Defeat Prop 200. Also, Stephen Farley, Tucson based artist and activist. His organization is called Voices: Community Stories Past and Present.

ALEXIS MAZON: Amy, can I give our website in case people around the country want to support our campaign? It’s, and we are a grassroots effort and we need grassroots support to defeat this.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you both for joining us. I should also say recently I was at Colorado College where a number of the students this summer went from Colorado to Arizona to work with an organization called No More Deaths. They went into the desert and they helped immigrants who had come across the border, and who were in the desert, and were suffering from dehydration, were lost, Also, other organizations in this area like Humane Borders, which very much spring out of the sanctuary movement of a quarter of a century ago when people in this area helped immigrants coming across the border, who were being persecuted in their own countries. All too often, that were supported by the U.S. Government, military regimes and in El Salvador and Guatemala. I want to thank you very much for being us with.

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