A Hispanic From AZ P.O.V. On Katrina Aid
http://www.azcentral.com/news/columns/articles/0912ruelas12.htmlRefugee aid violates Prop. 200Sept. 12, 2005 12:00 AMLast week, the state of Arizona started giving out welfare money to people who can't prove their citizenship. It was a show of goodwill to victims of Hurricane Katrina. It's also a clear violation of a recently passed state law.But Randy Pullen, one of the people behind the ballot initiative known as Protect Arizona Now, is not concerned. Because he meant Proposition 200 to target undocumented immigrants from Mexico, not evacuees from a hurricane in New Orleans.The vast majority of the hundreds temporarily housed at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix are literally undocumented. For many, their only identity is a badge handed out by the American Red Cross. The name on that badge, in most cases, was provided by the evacuee, with no verification.advertisement Unfortunately, under the new state law, that is not good enough. Meaning a portion of the aid being distributed is technically illegal. The state employees could be found guilty of misdemeanors. Someone could halt the state's "Operation Good Neighbor" by filing a civil court case.Pullen already has the state in court in a battle to expand the scope of the initiative. And he has threatened to sue individual agencies that he feels are violating the law. But the evacuee center will not be his first case. "It doesn't even come close to what you would be looking for," he said.Hard to see why not.The law is clear. Each state agency or local government must verify the identity and immigration status of everyone who applies for benefits. The law also states it "shall be enforced without regard to race, religion, gender, ethnicity or national origin."There is no provision for emergencies. There is no provision for compassion.As interpreted by Attorney General Terry Goddard, the law only applies to a handful of state welfare programs. One of those is the general-assistance program, a stopgap measure for those waiting for their federal disability checks to start arriving.Some evacuees are receiving aid from that program, said Liz Barker, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Economic Security. State workers are asking the evacuees to swear they are U.S. citizens, she said, the same method they were using before the passage of Proposition 200.That's the method that Pullen and other supporters of the initiative argued was open to fraud. Pullen still believes untold numbers of undocumented immigrants are illegally on the state's welfare rolls. And he's gone to court, hoping to expand the definition of the law to include several other aid programs.If his interpretation of the law were in place, Arizona would not have been legally able to hold last week's job fair that matched willing employers with evacuees. Nor would it have been able to help find subsidized or donated housing. Meaning the steady stream of people leaving the Coliseum might be a trickle instead. Folks like Fred Smittick, 47, would have to be content with a cot in an arena, rather than making plans for moving out."That's all I've been talking about all week; I want to get a job," Smittick said Thursday after getting hired by Sundt Construction. The former New Orleans resident planned to start this morning. He was also looking into getting help with housing. "Being in that place too long, it starts to get small," he said, walking back toward the Coliseum. "Pretty soon, you've got to leave the nest."Pullen said it's obvious the initiative was not meant to target disaster relief efforts such as this. He does not think the state government is doing anything wrong by helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He does not think Arizona is violating the spirit of Proposition 200."Most of (the evacuees) are citizens," he said. "They're not coming here with the idea of living here to take advantage of the services here. It's an emergency situation."Pullen said one answer would be to amend the law to clearly state that it doesn't apply in emergencies. But voter-approved laws are difficult to change. The Legislature must approve modifications by a three-fourths majority.Even if voters weren't clear what they were voting about.A poll released last month by the non-partisan research group thinkAZ found most people who voted for Proposition 200 did so to send a message about illegal immigration. The particulars of the law didn't matter so much."Most of the time these things are very esoteric," Pullen said, "and people don't understand it or get bored, and you don't get very far into it. There has to be an emotional appeal to it."In this case, the emotional appeal was about illegal immigration, even though nothing in the law stated that.Pullen said he wasn't sure why the provision about the law applying regardless of race or national origin was included in the measure. "Some legal reason," he said.Because its target was clear: people from Mexico and Central America who crossed the border illegally. Pullen said it was a shame that couldn't have been made clear in the proposition. "That's hard to do," he said.Reach Ruelas at (602) 444-8473 or [email]firstname.lastname@example.org.[/email]Opinions?